Friday, 23 November 2012
A Pad In The Straw by Christopher Woodforde, Sundial Press
We are in the immediate post-war era of Home Counties everydayness,
when the green-belt motorist became as much of a regular fixture under
the gaze of the herd-rearing farmer as his own harboured Pagan fables.
These twenty tales - first published in 1952 - see this sixtieth anniversary
reissue as the first in Dorset's 'Sundial Supernatural' series. A tone of
tinted old world charm and politely accommodating innocence pervade
each, and with good reason. Woodforde was Chaplain of New College,
Oxford, at the time, writing them down in the wake of declaiming them
aloud to the eight intrigued chorister boys in his charge.
Also something of an antiquarian scholar of the Middle Ages, these tales
were, in truth, a sideline, his true literary calling as scholar of Middle Age
antiquity expressed in pamphlets and subsequent notable tomes on the
provenance of medieval stained glass. ('Stained Glass in Somerset 1250-
1830' (1946) and 'The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth
Century' (1950) representing the recognised peak of his output).
If there is a feeling of deja-vu here, then, yes, the biog so far somewhat
mirrors that of M.R. James. Except a lighter touch is employed in the likes
of the title story, 'The Old Tithe Barn' 'The Chalk Pit' and 'The "Doom"
Window At Breckham' where historical location, while key to the re-opening
of old portals, never hold back the tales' forward momentum.
Others, possibly named after, or at least in tribute, to his early teenage
listeners, (such as 'Colin, Peter and Philip,' 'Malcolm,' 'Hugh' and 'Jeremy'
etc.) are equally light jumping-off points by which to inveigle the original
What Woodforde quietly excels at is the ability to suddenly reveal the
troubling manifestation right at tale's end, almost as an objectively reported
aside or afterthought. This lends an added tone of 'authenticity, ' at the very
moment a whimper of an ending is anticipated rather than the received
Myself not being religiously inclined, it's pleasing to note any preacherly
warnings of 'evil' are limited to generalities of youth straying from the path of
personal responsibility by their own naivete, which can hardly be deemed
controversial even by today's atheistic generation. The air of gentleness,
however, may not be for some modern tastes; but most contain a shock that
suddenly belies it, ensuring you should never take such surface appearances