I was recently invited to participate in a two-week rural B.residency in Wellingore, near Grantham. I had planned to make a series of drawings and some wood carvings. In the end, the written word seemed the most appropriate form to capture what I saw during my time in the British countryside. Below is an account of what happened.
King’s Cross. Tuesday. Waiting for the train to leave. I found a good quiet spot. The 13.08 Virgin train to York. All settled in. I notice two reserved tickets on the seats in front of me. Over the tannoy the various announcements are made. Staring out of the window at platform five. I send a quick email to the professor I’m due to meet. This whole meet-up is a bit of a mystery. A set of tickets posted to my office, with a scrawled, virtually incomprehensible note.
Back on the train, an old couple get on and start chatting away in their East Midland accents. They have sandwiches from M&S. I’m enjoying listening in on their passive-aggressive chitchat when I get a text from the professor. He wants to know if I’m on the train and why I’m not at the seat that had been booked for me. I text back and say I grabbed the first free seat I saw. A minute or so later he joins me in coach F. I hardly notice the train leaving the station and we set off on our way to Grantham. The professor finds me and takes the seat next to me; he is certainly a natty dresser. A tall, thin man, he’s wearing a houndstooth-checked suit, Dr Marten Brogues and a pork pie hat. Not what you’d expect from one of the UK’s leading theoretical physicists. Cutting through all pleasantries the professor says, “Things started to seem strange around the village about 8 months ago”.
He then produces a notebook that lists, with dates and places, some of these bizarre activities; they certainly do seem strange. Cars have changed colour over night; people have gone missing for days, only to return with no memory of being away, and the list of weird behaviour by the local livestock could have its own notebook. He starts to give me examples of animal and bird behaviour I can hardly believe. Sheep walking around fields in geometric formations, birdsong that sounds more like dogs barking, and bee’s producing jet- black honey, which, apparently, tastes amazing. So far the villagers have managed to somehow keep all these strange occurrences to themselves, as they often do in rural communities. How long that can last is anyone’s guess.
We arrive at Grantham station. We walk outside, through a slightly dank dark tunnel to the professor’s car. Half way through the tunnel, I notice some very amateurish graffiti; for some reason it stops me momentarily. The graffiti is simply the outline of a large triangle sprayed on the wall, and in a messy, hand- writing style, the words, “They have Landed March 1990”. We get into the professors beaten up old Citroen and make the 20-minute drive from Grantham to Wellingore. On the way he tells me about dropping out of school in London in the 1970s and how he was introduced to radical mathematics in various anarchist squats in southeast London around that time. This had sparked an interest in more hardcore physics and eventually [led to] a place at Leicester University. It was through an old south London contact that he had found me. He stops mid sentence to point out the house where Margaret Thatcher was born. I spend the rest of the journey looking out of the car window, at the flat, Lincolnshire landscape as it passes by [me]: field after field with the odd pylon line and the occasional wind turbine.
The professor and his wife live in a large converted Methodist Chapel just off Blacksmith Lane. In the car he tells me about the conversion project, how he’d found the derelict building with the help of Daltons Weekly. The building had holes in the roof and no floor when they’d taken it on. It’s now a very beautiful modern space, white and airy, like a contemporary art gallery, with distinctive purple beams along the ceiling. Standing in the kitchen area the professor offers me a glass of Belvoir Elderflower juice. Very refreshing. “Grantham’s own,” he says.
I look around the room and notice a number of stuffed animals on the walls and in vitrines. I pay them no mind and say good night. I’m staying in the ‘Reading Room’ adjacent to the main church building. It’s also part of the chapel conversion – a very big studio style room that still feels slightly churchy. There is a little kitchen area with what looks like some leftovers from previous guests –some baked beans in a tin, half a box of Dorset muesli, some pasta, tea, coffee – basically enough to make it through the night, if necessary. I look in the small fridge, which is empty except for a pot of strawberry jam, some ‘Truly Irresistible’ fair trade chocolate and a bottle of Evian water. I take a shower. In the shower there is some Lush shower gel; I don’t even consider not using it. As I’m drying up I see a huge flying bug land on my laptop that is sitting open on the table. The flying bug is literally as big as a small bird. I am terrified at the sight of the thing. It sits on the laptop, making a loud, hissing noise. It is seemingly fascinated by the light of the screen and rubs its long alien like legs together and then flies off out of an open window, into the darkness. I quickly close the window behind the disgusting creature. I go back to my computer and see that it’s been covered in a thick layer of bright pink slime. I have to mix washing up liquid with warm water to wipe the slime away. Still slightly freaked out by the giant bug, I decide it’s time to get some sleep. I lie in bed. My mind is racing away and the small single bed is hard and uncomfortable. It takes an age, but eventually I drift off. I don’t sleep deeply, however, and wake up several times in the night. I’m too hot, too many thoughts racing through my mind. Eventually, I have to get out of the bed. I go to the fridge and take a gulp of water from the Evian bottle. I put some clothes on and open the door into the crisp night. The road is completely empty. Not a sole in sight and deadly silent. There are some lights on in the occasional house, but the village appears to be sleeping. The pitch-black night sky above is sharp and clear. I look up and focus on a particular star. I don’t know why but the Alpha Ursae Majoris transfixes me. It is 123 light years away. It’s strange to think that I might only be looking at the echoes of an explosion that took place in 1892. The thought of this makes me want to go back to bed. Then, in a moment, the black sky turns red, then green, then bright, bright white. I almost feel as if I’m dreaming. I look back up at the sky, but now it’s pitch black again, filled only with tiny dots of starlight.
The sound of wind smashing against the building I’m sleeping inside wakes me up in the morning. I also hear the sound of what I guess must be birds, only they don’t sound like any bird I’ve ever heard before. It’s a wailing noise, echoing and long and slightly haunting, nearer to a deep scream than bird song. But I quickly become accustomed to this morbid tone in the air. That and the wind provide my soundtrack while I walk into the nearby village of Navenby for supplies. I pop into a butchers called Odling’s and pick up some vegetables and a sirloin steak. Then I walk a bit further down the grass- lined village high street to a little supermarket. I have a quick scout around and decide on some yogurt and honey. I remember the Professor mentioning on the train about the “amazing” black honey that had suddenly started to be produced by local bees. I ask a shop assistant if they stock the black honey. She looks awkwardly at her feet and says she has not heard of such a product. I pay for my items and leave the shop. Outside, a woman dressed in tweed comes up to me and grabs my arm. “Young man”, she says, looking up and down the road, as if she does not want to be seen talking to me. She then goes on to explain that if I want some of the black honey, I’ll need to visit a certain address and ask for “the special bee stuff”. I make a note of the address and thank the woman for the inside information. She winks at me and strides away. I fold the address up, put it into my pocket and plan to investigate later. Before heading back, I decide to stop off at a bookstore that also does tea. Inside I spend some time perusing the shelves. I pick up a book on crime and murder in Lincolnshire and another on historic images of Nottingham. I order a pot of tea, take a seat and start flicking through the books. As I’m gazing at the images of Nottingham beauty queens, and a famous local clown (called Peter Brown), a man, who looks to be in his sixties, asks me if he can sit at my table. I say “fine”. He’s wearing a distinctive blue sweater with two owls on it, as well as a Country Side Alliance badge. Joseph introduces himself and says he is also interested in local history and could not help noticing the books I was reading. He starts to tell me about the history of the Knights Templars in Lincoln and says many of the knights are buried in the churches in the surrounding villages. Then he starts talking about ancient holy builders, and how Lincolnshire has been a meeting point for “high powered societies” for millennia. “There are royal blood lines linking Lincoln to a global network of historic groups who have much influence around the world” he tells me. These groups have always been at the forefront of military techniques and weaponry and the tradition continues to this day. Future wars and weapons of death are being planned and constructed not three miles from where we are sitting.
I sip my Earl Grey.
Joseph has brilliant white hair, and wide, piercing brown eyes that seem to expand as he talks at me. I manage to break the flow of information coming from him just long enough to ask what he does for a living.
“I run a funeral parlour”, he says. This is where his interest in looking at gravestones comes from. He goes on to say that Wellingore and Nevenbury have very strong ley lines, unknown to many who study the English landscape, but that a direct alignment between the villages and Lincoln Cathedral can be traced by those who know how to. The cathedral then links up with other significant ancient topographic locations around the country such as Salisbury, and bizarrely, Bromley in Kent.
“Bromley?”, I ask.
“Birthplace of time travel and the war of the worlds”, says Joseph.
I finish my tea, and decide it’s time to get back to the professor. I thank Joseph for the conversation and start to leave the bookshop. Very quietly, he leans into my ear and whispers: “Wear ear plugs at night and stay away from the black honey”. I get back to the chapel and the professor is there, making some notes on a white board. I ask him what he’s doing and he mentions something about condensed matter, although, to me, the white board simply appears to be covered in abstract squiggles. The professor says he has arranged a meeting with some of his colleagues who live nearby. He says he thinks it’s important that I speak to them. Fifteen minutes later we drive over to Waddington. On the way I mention my conversation with Joseph. The professor is not surprised by any of the revelations. In fact he mentions that there is an R.A.F base very near to where we are going. He says the base is quite controversial, not least because they are known as a UK launching point for drones and other surveillance equipment. He asks if I would like to see the site. I say yes, and we make a quick detour to have a look at what is basically a large yellow fence with a couple of soldiers guarding it. I decide to take a quick photograph and jump back in the car and we drive off. Alistair and Rosslyn are also theoretical physicists. They also live in a converted Methodist chapel, and it is also full of stuffed animals – stuffed cats, to be precise. A bit creepy. There are also five living cats walking about the place. Rosslyn offers me a drink of Belvoir Elderflower juice with water, which I accept. I’m starting to get a taste for this stuff. She does not waste any time before saying, “We are under psychic attack from drones!”
“Not actually drones…” Alistair cuts in. “Strictly speaking, we are dealing with Remotely Piloted Aircraft – R.P.As.
“Nobody cares less what acronym you give them” [says Rosslyn]. “They are machines for killing and spying on people around the world. And we are fairly sure the drones coming out of R.A.F Waddington are sending out some type of radio waves that are responsible for making local people and local animals go crazy.” Rosslyn goes on to explain how she believes the UK military are testing mind control techniques that induce hallucinatory-like affects on villages in the Lincoln area.
“We are certain they are using local villages for their tests”.
She says at first the effects could be passed off as coincidence, but protestors at the RAF Waddington peace camp had informed her of other similar cases around the world – small communities being used as guinea pigs for new forms of covert operations, often without the victims ever knowing.
“There are baddies out there”, Alistair says, point blank.
“Drones are the new land-mines. They are indiscriminate weapons of war that kill more civilians than they do legitimate targets. Add to this the hallucinogenic radio waves they are developing and the prospects are disastrous. Just think about it. Mass mind control in the UK or anywhere in the world operated by a hormonal twenty year old via an app in some government-funded military facility!”
Alistair and Rosslyn then go on to show me photographic documentation of the drones, or R.P.As hovering above the village. They also play me sound recordings that have been taken in the last few months in their back garden. The recordings sound very much like the weird birdsong I heard this morning. Things were starting to add up, but to what, I wasn’t sure. We left Waddington and the Professor headed home. I decided to stop in at the local pub in Wellingore.
Inside the pub there is a darts game going on. It’s a local team versus a visiting side from Moscow. Quite a turn up for the books to find Welingore’s local boozer filled with vodka-downing Russians. I order a Glenfidditch. I look at the barmaid. Surrounded by Help for Hero’s triangular Union Jack plastic flags, she seems to be a million miles away. All the locals in this pub basically look as if they are dressed up as the Wu-Tang Clan. Baggy jeans and rugby tops. Timberland boots. Neither the Russian nor the British dart players could be described as a conventionally beautiful group of men. Unique maybe. The Russians, however, have brought with them a large number of very glamorous and scantily dressed young women, who seem very happy to drape themselves over their British hosts. The darts teams, both local and visitors, all order pizza and chips and to the Russians’ great amusement, garlic bread with cheese. One of the local players says, “God said, let there be garlic bread. And Beelzebub said, put cheese on it”. One of them offers me some garlic bread with cheese on it. The atmosphere in the bar is boisterous. The Russian dart players put Tom Jones onto the digital duke box and all start singing along to the classic hit ‘Delilah’. Their British counterparts join in. One of the Brits, the one that offered me the garlic bread, looks over at me and mouths the word “sorry”. But I think to myself how good Tom Jones is. I tip my hat to Tom Jones. I overhear one of the British darts players make a joke. First he says he wants to hear some Simon and Garfunkel. Then he says: “My father’s brother lost both of his legs in the war. We called him Uncle Half-Uncle”.
I leave the pub around 11.45 and head back to the Reading Room studio. Inside, I’m just about to turn on my computer when there is a knock on the door. I open it and see two men dressed in dark grey suits. “Excuse us sir, but we would like to ask you some questions. Would you mind coming with us?” My heart skips a beat. This is not a question; it’s an order. They wave some sort of official badge, say they are from the anti- terrorism squad and bundle me into the back of an unmarked car. At the police station I’m asked the same questions over and over again. The police constantly say that I’m not under arrest and that they “just want to clear up some enquires.” They want to know why I was taking photographs at the R.A.F base and what exactly I’m doing in Wellingore. I spend around two hours in a small interview room before they finally release me saying no further action will be taken. As I leave the station, one of the officers says to me: “This is about a humane way to carry out war”. The next morning, I wake up early to get ready for the train back to London. The strange birdsong is there again. En route to the station I walk along Blacksmith Lane to Pingle Lane, then up to the end of Egg Shell Alley and ring the doorbell of a new-build looking house. A man in his forties, with a long beard, answers. He’s wearing a red silk gown and some type of Egyptian- looking hat with a five-pointed gold star on it.
“Can I have some of the special bee stuff”, I ask.
This story was written as part of the Beacon B.Resident project, you can find more info at beaconartproject.org
Photograph Credits & Copyrights: Cedar Lewisohn