Don’t ask the Locals!

Nightjar painted by John Gerrard Keulemans, late 19th Century.

Nightjar painted by John Gerrard Keulemans, late 19th Century.

Snippets 101.  In a previous post, we looked at a quote from Travels in England, by Richard Le Gallienne, published in 1900.  The following two quotations are from different parts of the same book, but share a common theme.  According to Le Gallienne, if you wanted to find something out while travelling around, there was little point in asking anybody.

I ask the old man why yonder ridge is called Weaver’s Down — but, of course, the old man has no idea. No one knows anything of the country in the country, nor does any one want to know. If you are at a loss for the name of a bird or a flower, it is of no use to ask a countryman. The people who know about birds and flowers are to be found on the Underground Railway, wistfully dreaming of their yearly fortnight by —

“Shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.”

It is the Cockney who is your true nature-lover. I remember once imparting to a countryman the abstruse natural fact that tadpoles turned into frogs — but he wouldn’t believe me. Nay, he brought all his household together to laugh me to scorn. They had evidently never heard anything quite so amusing as that. What notions these towns-folk do have of the the country, to be sure!

Yes, I surmised that at last I saw my old friend the nightjar face to face. But to make quite sure I asked the innkeeper. Now the innkeeper was a countryman. So, you see, he didn’t know. As the bird is the typical bird of the heather and pine country in which the innkeeper has been born and bred — as typical as the sparrow is typical of London — was it to be expected of him that he should know ? The bird had been there along with the beer-pumps and the rest of the fixtures when he took over the place. So began and ended his information on the subject. However, I hadn’t any real doubt as to the identity of the bird. He was as surely a nightjar as the beer-pump was a beer-pump; and I studied him long and reverently, as one studies the features of a poet whose voice we have so often heard, but whose face one sees for the first time.

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About Roger Pocock

Author of Co-writer on Administrator of
This entry was posted in 20th Century, Books, Britain, England, History, Nature, Snippets, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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