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Excerpts from Visa for Avalon


“Yes, most of the inns are full. But tell me, Alex, do you know anything about what they call the movement?”

“Have you stopped listening to the news on principle, just because you’ve retired?”

“A girl came up to me just now with one of their buttons on her coat and I thought she was very rude.”

“I suppose it has not dawned on you that they are threatening to call a General Strike next week.”

“But who are they? And what is it?”

“It began among a few disgruntled citizens and has spread virulently, particularly among the young. It’s a return to barbarism, I suppose, we have given them more than their little brains can stand.”

“What do you mean?”

“A friend of mine told me once that revolutions rose from pushing undigested knowledge into brains unable to absorb it.”

“But you don’t think we’re going to have trouble…” It seemed inconceivable in the sun and air of this gay morning.

“I don’t know,” then Alex disengaged himself from the strap of his rucksack and handed it down to the waiting fisherman, as if he too, wanted to absorb himself in the day, “like yourself, I’m leaving politics alone till I get back to the office.” [pp. 9–10]

She put her basket firmly on the ground and had started to pick some beans when the gate rattled and she looked up to see a white-faced, city-dressed stranger, standing in front of her. “There’s no bell,” he complained, exactly as if he were a policeman taking somebody’s name for not having a light on his cycle.

“We don’t need one here.” He was probably one of those hire purchase people, wanting to sell her a sweeper.

“Does this cottage belong to a Mrs. Blunt?”

“I’m Mrs. Blunt and it does.”

“Then I have a communication for you.” He handed her a buff envelope and she had a premonition that if she did not open it, nothing would happen. He stared at her, she fumbled a moment and then slit it open with a finger although normally she would have fetched a paper-knife because she hated torn edges. Perhaps it was something to do with the new reservoir that they had promised the village for years but when she tried to read the form the words danced in front of her and she could hardly put the letters together.

“I will answer any questions you like to put to me.” She stared at the official, he had the fixed jaws of a recently dead fish.

“Come in,” she led the way into the house. “What does all this mean?”      

“It’s like this Mrs. Blunt. The Government is putting up an electricity station at Treworthen. You must have felt the lack of communication here. Thought of moving perhaps…”

“I was born here, widowed here and I expect to die in my cottage.”

“This is a dying village, I’m afraid.”

“Rubbish, we grow potatoes and we fish, we may not be rich but…”

“There’s no work for the young people and when the new station is built there will be factories. Several firms have consulted us about the possibilities and it’s almost certain that one of the big cement concerns will start work here.”

“But what has all this got to do with me?” Lilian said stupidly.

“We are going to build a new road to Treworthen and I am afraid it will pass across your house. Our surveyor will be here next week and then we can tell you approximately when you have to move. We shall be glad to do anything in our power to help you find another. Perhaps you have relatives elsewhere in the county?”

“I am not going to sell my house.”

“There is a Requisition Order for the land, Mrs. Blunt. I assure you, you will receive adequate compensation.”

“Put a road across the place where I have spent a lifetime?” [pp. 10–12]

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“Now I should like to go to a place they say is utterly different. I want to go to Avalon.”

“Avalon?” Alex was so startled that he looked at her almost rudely. “It’s very unfashionable these days.”

“As if I care! It sounds, as I just said, different.”

“Let us take some positive measures first, Mrs. Blunt, before we talk gloomily about emigration. You can’t let them ride roughshod over you like this.” [p. 21]

People would call them crazy to leave for a new country at their age rather than give up “a bit of independence.” There were moments when Robinson was tempted to agree with them. It was, however, almost a moral question. If an individual’s right to a place of his own were not respected, it was the first link in a chain that would ultimately lead to the elimination of the unwanted by any group that happened to be in power. “We have to make a stand, I suppose,” he said with such a question in his voice that Lilian looked at him in amazement. “If you have any regrets about coming, Mr. Robinson, I am quite capable of making my journey alone.” [p. 32]

“Now,” Bert leaned back as they drove slowly into the street, “you want to catch your plane and I think I can get you there, if you leave the route to me. We’re in, well, say the middle of the map square here and the roads are blocked on either side. I’m going east because one of my mates told me there’s a place where they’re letting some cars through to the station. Once across, I know a byway that will take us back where we want to go.”

“You know best.”

“Don’t be frightened, lady,” but Lilian was looking defiant rather than alarmed, “I’ll get you there somehow but it may take time. Let me do the talking,” he repeated, “if we’re stopped.”

They raced down an empty road although Robinson felt that unseen faces were at every window. Places that had been as familiar to him as his own room were now more alien than the country where he hoped to settle. It added to their terrifying aspect that he could not remember how they had once looked. Sometimes a familiarity of line evoked a visual memory but it was faint; twenty years had vanished from his mind, twenty years of work and fog and struggle with only the promise of Trelawney in the summer. Could a lifetime disappear as utterly as this? It could, he supposed, even the moors where he had argued with Alex not ten days before had dissolved into mist. “You have got the tickets, sir?” He started at the sound of Bert’s voice and took out his wallet.

“Oh, Mr. Robinson, did the consul give you a paper or something?”

“I have my ticket,” he frowned at Lilian, “better get yours ready.”

He had found a talisman in his note case. It was simply the cover from the last air ticket that he had used, a month or two before leaving for Trelawney. He usually discarded such scraps at once but it had stuck forgotten in a fold of the wallet until he had turned it out on the previous evening. If they opened the tickets, they would see that it had no value but if it were a casual inspection, he might get away with it.

“What these fools think they are up to is beyond me,” Bert gave a hurried glance behind him. “These weeks are the best in the year, I’ve taken foreign tourists for a two or three day trip and had lots of airport work. I need the money, I’ve got a wife and two kids. What do they think they are doing to us?”

“It’s so sudden.”

“No, I wouldn’t say that, sir. It’s been in the air for years. But who did anything about it? Shoved the blame around but wouldn’t do nothing themselves. Shameful, it was, shameful. Friend of mine was hit on the head by a lout and what did he get but sympathy? Sympathy is a hell of a lot of use if a man’s out for a fortnight on half wages.”

“People are apathetic.”

“Plain lazy, I call it, sir.” The car swerved suddenly to avoid a barrow that had been upset in the street. Two cabbages and a trail of apples, they looked just like a green plastic hose, had rolled into the gutter. “Wonder what happened there,” Bert looked around again uneasily, “somebody they didn’t like or who wouldn’t go along with them.”

It was really a nightmare, this race round empty squares with a dense, low murmur of voices coming towards them from the main street. Was it a symbol of the last decade, of a decay that could no more be stopped than a plague, was the Movement a throwback to some prehistoric beast whose huge limbs did not always receive messages from the tiny brain inside its head? “Now, sir, have the papers ready. If we can cross as if we were going to the station, I’ll get you back all right for your plane.” [pp. 80–82]

“I hope you won’t regret joining us.”

“Oh, no, sir,” he was beginning to feel more at ease, “I don’t like the ideas that are creeping across the country, I should never be happy if I stayed here.” Looking back, life seemed a series of steps, like the bites he had just taken out of his sandwich. It had begun in a rough field on a summer day when the blades of grass, each the same green, each the same length, had stifled the enthusiasm he ought to have felt at the beginning of the holidays. He had heard a noise, a plane had passed over his head, not much higher than the hedges but really a discoverer, losing and finding itself among scraps of cloud that never kept the same shape for five minutes. It had not been long before he had earned his license flying a kite that might easily have dropped to pieces above the same meadow. Those were the good days when he had beaten the birds by getting into the air with the first light. There had been flying school (as if he needed it), the gradual descent from the big line to the small, from passenger to freight, until the moment when his own domain, the air, had been reft away from him. He, the pioneer, had been flung onto the scrap heap along with other old bits of metal. Whatever they asked him to do in Avalon, the loneliness of his last unsatisfying work was over and there would be no risk of meeting a smart young officer whom he might have taught to fly and seeing (he did not know which was worse) the indifference or pity in the man’s face. [p. 129]