England has gone all Merchant Ivory.
It actually resembles all those films which pretend to represent us: Howard’s End, and Room With a View and suchlike.
England, when it is all dappled shade and aquatint, sells. It is warm and open and the trees are just about in limey leaf, and we’re all unpacking our t-shirts and playing cricket on every lawn that beckons.
The blossom is showering meadows, the bluebells nod and tinkle, it’s all perfection here right now.
It happens once in a blue moon. Mostly, it rains. What to do with a golden afternoon?
Why, recall an English author’s nightmare vision, of course: and return to the scene of his horrific creation. What might it look like in a Merchant Ivory film, I wonder?
We have been musing much on HG Wells’ War of The Worlds. Woking, where the great man set this iconic tale, is just down the road, a well-trained suburb with a theatre and a fearsome one-way system.
And on the Chobham Road out of Woking is the scene of a breathtaking, if fictional event.
It happens at Horsall Common.
This is where Wells has his Martian spaceship crash. He is even more specific than this: he says the capsule lands near The Sandpit.
We spotted signs for the common on the way back from Woking a couple of weeks ago. And today, we felt ready to picnic where the Martians had landed.
There was great excitement. The whole family has been listening to the audiobook: we know, step-by-step, what happened when the great black creatures unscrewed the top of their capsule and emerged to take over the world.
Wells describes how an unidentified object lands which is clearly not quite natural. It draws onlookers who gather in knots and ooh and aah as they capsule opens and black, ‘unspeakably nasty’ aliens emerge into a new atmosphere. Those who stay to watch are unwise, as the first idiot who topples into the pit finds to his cost. He is spotted, his head bobbing, trying to re-emerge and then falls, never to be seen again.
Still, the crowds reason, there is no way the Martians can get out of the Sandpit on Horsall Common. Even the Press says so.
No-one bargains for their technological genius, however. It is not long before great mechanical tripods are transporting the predators about. Their method of hunting is efficient: they herd humans, they kill them with a heat ray, and then they fillet them.
The most superior race on the planet is relegated to the significance of ants.
We arrived at the Common all anticipation. Surely, somewhere, someone might acknowledge what so momentously didn’t happen here, one hundred and ten years ago?
It appears not. There is not a whisper of the site’s gory and horrific, if fictional, past. Is this because the good people of Surrey don’t want a load of lower-class oiks trampling their back yard? Perhaps. Or perhaps, an even less charitable conclusion, they simply do not know.
Two adults, two children and a dog started out on the hallowed trail. The map revealed there was actually a site called The Sandpit. Unbelievable specificity! We would be able to stand where they had not landed: to watch where humans had not been herded: in short, to commune with this great literary site.
But it was hard to envisage terror, this balmy afternoon. The path to the sandpit is a wide dusty road embowered by a solicitous forest which meets overhead. The brand-new lime-green foliage showed the dappled sunlight off to its greatest possible advantage.
Men busied themselves about their various concerns. With infinite complacency, they went to and fro …serene in their assurance of their empire over matter.
The woods were full of Surrey dogs: they walked with the walk of the CRUFTS centre ring, a pedigree spring in their step.
Accompanying them were Surrey children, who would greet one with a cheery “Hello”, so unlike the customary Neanderthal grunt of the general masses. Everyone was well-dressed and well-heeled.
After extricating the dog from several peaty, smelly heath pools we arrived at our destination.
And it was unmistakeable. The forest cleared for a great orange beachy expanse of sand, with a pool at the bottom. It seemed unearthly, there in the midst of a forest of pines and birches. It almost shouted.
No wonder Wells chose this geological anomaly for the landing of his mythical creatures, I thought. It is alien itself.
Although this did not seem to bother the Surrey families picnicking happily where Martians never trod.
We joined them with ham rolls and iced buns and grapes and crisps. It was a festive occasion. We tempted the dog back occasionally from a hectic social calendar with the odd hoola hoop crisp which he crunched with doggy abandon.
Pure Merchant Ivory.
No one would have believed that this world was being watched, keenly and closely, by intelligences greater than man’s: and yet as mortal as his own.