The Day before returning to Soddenham I am pleased that over the last few weeks I have completed my preparation ahead of my return to Soddenham. All the equipment is listed, packed ready to go.
This evening I have finished making the last of the brass location studs and spikes. I hope that Les and Jessie will be as pleased with these. I’m not sure how much equipment they have but you can never have too much equipment. My grandfather used to say “a man without equipment is like tree without leaves”. He said this any time someone asked him why he had so many tools in his shed.
When they mentioned exploring I thought about buying everything necessary but wanted to bring something handmade to show Les and Jessie. I hope they will see that my intentions are serious and that I want to contribute fully to the exploration. I’ve not told them about the location studs and hope they will welcome my innovation. Les and Jessie haven’t mentioned a great deal regarding health and safety but I think I have most angles covered. I’m sure that when we get together we will have all the necessary knowledge and skills to tackle what lies ahead.
I am reminded of the quote from Roald Amundsen:
“I may say that this is the greatest factor: the way in which the expedition is equipped, the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order, luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time, this is called bad luck.”
It is with the spirit of Amundsen that I return to Soddenham…
DAY ONE (A.M) Today I will be returning to Soddenham for the first time in over 30 years. It’s funny how time can pass so quickly. There are many times I have thought of heading to Soddenham or even taking a detour that would pass through the village. In all those years it never actually happened. The invitation from Les and Jessie has given me that final push to make the return journey.
I imagined that I might feel a little more emotional about returning to the place of my early childhood. Instead, this morning I feel purposeful and equipped to return. I wonder how much the place will have changed.
DAY ONE (P.M) Driving into Soddenham is like passing through time to my childhood. Les’s website had prepared me for changes but I hadn’t been prepared for how much the of the village remains the same as it was all those years ago. Smells and sights brought back vivid memories of my childhood in the village. They were happy days and I’m sure that while I’m here I will be transported back to the days of my youth.
The sight of Candlesmoke Bridge brought back something I had forgotten completely. One summer evening I had stolen a couple of Woodbine cigarettes and a packet of Swan Vestas from my uncle. I had arranged to meet M—- T—– by the bridge. I thought she would be impressed to see me looking grown up and smoking a cigarette. Having never tried to smoke before I thought you had to blow and couldn’t light it. She showed me what to do and I remember thinking how she looked like a film star and I knew she was special. Back then though there was little she could do that didn’t make me like her more. I suggested she should get a cigarette holder. She passed me the cigarette which just made me cough. Things hadn’t gone quite the way I hoped. I moved to plan B which was to show her how I could burn her initials into wood using my magnifying glass. Plan B was a great success and she shared her Spangles. I had probably forced the memory from my mind because the looking good with a cigarette had failed. I had forgotten how impressed she had been with plan B. And now she’s back in the front of my mind. I wonder if she is still here….
Arriving in the village I was running late so headed straight to the Witches Teat to meet my fellow explorers. The pub was busy but Les and Jessie spotted me as I walked to the bar. We exchanged greetings with heavy purposeful handshakes. Les bought me a pint. My first taste of Witches Brew. After I complimented the landlord on his fine ale, Jessie and Les took me to the corner table where they had a stack of papers and some photographs. Before we got down to business we talked more about the beer. I wanted to impress them both and showed them a couple of the brass location studs but they seemed unimpressed with the idea. I suspect they hadn’t considered how to properly map and document the establishment. Perhaps the studs were a step too far early in the conversation. They admired the handiwork but I think they thought they were a bit unnecessary. Never the less I thought it showed I had put some preparation into our adventure.
Les and Jessie talked me through their exploration so far. The news that local youths had become poorly after visiting the establishment was worrying. I mentioned that I have a pretty comprehensive set of safety equipment, enough for all of us. After they had been suitably unimpressed with my location studs I didn’t tell them the details of all the equipment.
I was impressed with the significant amount of work Les and Jessie have put in although their approach isn’t as scientific as I hoped. We discussed ways to gather evidence and photographs. I touched on 3D computer mapping and how in the future the location studs might help with this. I think Jessie thought I had just landed from another planet. He had no idea what 3D computer mapping is. Explaining this to him took longer than I hoped. After mentioning the View Master stereoscopic photo viewer he started to grasp the concept, though translating this into a computer generated 3D map of the establishment was I think beyond his comprehension. I regretted talking about 3D mapping but it at least helped me establish the difference in our approaches.
I enjoyed meeting Les and Jessie. Les seems to be down to earth and was very welcoming. Jessie was friendly but often seemed a little distracted or uninterested in the things we were talking about. I felt like he wasn’t paying as much attention as I would like. If we are going into uncharted territory together then I want to know we can depend on one another. I feel confident in Les but I will need to keep a closer eye on Jessie.
It has been a long day. Tomorrow we are meeting at 09:30hrs outside the Witches Teat. Before then I will want to do a full inventory check.
DAY TWO 07:30hrs – Inventory check…
09:30hrs After a cooked breakfast I met Les and Jessie as arranged. Neither of them seemed terribly well equipped but Les had brought some terrific looking sandwiches for lunch made by his wife. I said that he must pass on my thanks to Mrs Taret and that if we have time it would be nice to meet her during my stay.
The weather was on our side and it felt good to be meeting up. I had already worn in my new boots and with my back pack filled to the gills with top notch gear I felt like the explorer I wanted to be.
Of the three of us I felt I looked the most professional but perhaps a little out of place for Soddenham. While checking with one another about what equipment we had between us Jessie again seemed a bit distracted. He was literally off with the birds, pointing out a wren in a nearby bush. Luckily Les put him straight and told him that this isn’t a twitchers convention. I think Jessie realised he should pay a bit more attention and showed us that he had brought his camera as if to say he is fully on board.
I advised Les and Jessie that I have had a lot of training in health and safety and that I would like to take the lead when it comes to matters of our safety during our exploration. I think they were pleased and reassured but Jessie made some quip about health and safety gone mad. I gave him one of my looks. He quickly got the message that when it comes to safety I’m not to be messed with and that we should all take things a bit more seriously.
I want the exploration to challenge me and I don’t want to have to play by all the rules that I do while at work. This is an opportunity for me to see what I am capable of. I did however also take the lead in suggesting we should be clear about our objectives for our mission and subsequent visits to the Establishment. At work I would have said something about all singing from the same hymn sheet and I’m glad I say it to Les and Jessie.
Les is a natural leader. He was not challenged by and welcomed my thoughts about safety and objectives. Jessie feels a bit more detached and so far hasn’t made a great contribution other than doing a bit of bird spotting.
The outside of the Establishment is just like the photographs. There was a quiet that I hadn’t expected and there appeared to be few birds for Jessie to spot! The air outside was still and the smells of nature seemed to be mixed with something else, though I could not detect what. Perhaps it was just the smells of an old decaying building. Once outside the Establishment it felt like the three of us were about to enter the unknown. I was more excited than I wanted to show and said something impressive like “Well this is it then…” Les said we should take things steady and I said some more stuff about safety. Suddenly Jessie decided it was time and effortlessly removed the long nails that secured the door. He had a few tools that looked like they would be useful and I liked that on that occasion he had assumed a very practical role. Perhaps things will work out. Les led us into the Establishment…
We entered a large room and I made some voice notes on the digital voice recorder for later. Along with the unusual “mapped” pattern on the wall I spotted some graffiti. Jessie said it had been done by one of the local lads who had been ill and was evidence they had been there.
From the large room there was a locked door. Jessie was about to pick the lock with a hair grip when I produced my Burton Bullet and suggested I drill the lock out. I had mentioned the Bullet among the tools I had listed in the car park of the Teat but Jessie clearly hadn’t been paying attention. Or maybe he thought he was James Bond? It felt a little like I was showing off. However Les said nothing but I think he appreciated that I had come prepared. He kindly said I should be the first to see what lies behind the door.
With my Fenix in hand I opened the door. My torch was easily bright enough to illuminate the whole room and to my disappointment it was empty. Les noted that it was much cleaner than the rest of the building. It hadn’t struck me at first. I think the excitement had got the better of me. We had a look around and as we exited it was Jessie who saw the envelope taped to the inside of the door. I recorded details of the find and secured it safely in a sealed bag for later. I added some voice notes about the room and our find and that I thought there must be more to the room than we have seen and that we should conduct a more detailed inspection of the room. I noted the phrase “Hide in plain sight”. An empty room would seem like a good place to hide something…!
Jessie led us to the long room and again used his set of tools to remove the screws that secured the door. As soon as Jessie opened the door there was a terrible smell. It was the odour I had smelled before entering the establishment except now it was almost overpowering and there were no smells of nature. My health and safety training kicked in. We masked up and I suggested waiting a moment to see how we feel before proceeding.
The long room was very dark and it was impossible to tell how long it was. Les entered the room and almost immediately disappeared into the darkness. He came out after Jessie called to him and talked about how strange it sounded inside. We carried out some experiments. I’m not sure Les and Jessie would have called them experiments but we identified a new phenomenon that for now I will call Acoustic Visual Space-time Dislocation (AVSD).
From our very basic investigations we found that in the long room sound waves do not behave in a known manner. The same is true of light waves and time appears to be compressed. As I write these words it sounds like I’m writing a science fiction novel rather than findings from our exploration of the Establishment. I certainly don’t intend to publish any findings until I have carried out further research.
My experience in the long room with Jessie and Les has left me feeling far more unsettled than I thought. I came to explore the physical nature of an old derelict building not to have my understanding of the laws of physics challenged. I’ve launched myself into the unknown in more ways than one. Rather than fear I feel both unsettled and exhilarated. I know how explorers of old must have felt when they set foot in a new country or climbed mountains. The Establishment is full of the stuff that I wanted to get from exploring and a whole lot more.
Right now I cannot begin to analyse my notes or anything else. I’m living in the moment and it is a moment that is a million miles from home. Les and Jessie seem a little more circumspect and I think I will contain my excitement and focus on gathering evidence when we return to the Establishment. I don’t want them to think I’ve lost the plot.
I have assumed responsibility for our safety. Although to be honest I’m not sure I can guarantee that at this point in time. What does that even mean? A point in time? Already the Establishment is challenging my understanding of the concept of time. Albert Einstein said “The only reason time exists is so that everything doesn’t happen at once”. What if he is right and what if rather than there being one time for everything there are packages of time running simultaneously. Events taking place in their own package of time in the same place at the same moment, quite separately. We might think an event is happening in unique moment in some sort of linear time continuum. In reality it is quite possible the unique moment is simply in a package of time and it’s trajectory may be determined by all the other packages of time that surround it. The dimensions of these packages may well go way beyond our understanding. The possibility of a fourth, fifth and sixth dimension would help to explain the package theory. This area of science is not one of my strong points but the time package theory would help to explain the AVSD. I’m not sure if Einstein was alluding to a package theory of time but in light of experiences at the Establishment I’m inclined to think he might have been. I will ease off my evaluation of our findings so far and come back to the science when we have revisited the Establishment.
Day one at the Establishment has already exceeded my expectations regardless of further findings. I know Les and Jessie want to understand the history and purpose of the Establishment and I hope that I can be part of that too along with the scientific learning.
Despite my misgivings about Jessie I thought today we made a good team. Les is clear thinking and Jessie approaches tasks with vigour and enthusiasm. I hope that after today he will be a bit more interested in the Establishment and less so in his birdwatching. At least while we are all together. I enjoy Jessies nature notes on the website and I wouldn’t want to temper his enthusiasm for the birds and the trees.
We finished our day of exploring with a few pints in the Witches Teat. We setted down to discuss todays events and about how we should tackle the next visit. After discussing the AVSD penomenon I raised the issue of the poor visibility. Les stepped in or rather stepped up. He said that he has access to a generator, outdoor lighting and most importantly power tools. He really does mean business. I know Les dedicates a great deal of time to his work with the SHSACC and also to maintaining the website but it hadn’t prepared me for the conviction and enthusiasm he has shown for exploring. Even Jessie perked up and became interested at the prospect of power tools.
Having made some decisions about our next steps we had the time to talk about cricketball, the poetry festival and the summer fete. I have lots of questions about Soddenham but I won’t overwhelm Les and Jessie with too much. I mentioned that on arrival I noticed that the Rumbelows I remembered from my childhood is now a Polish shop. Jessie told how before opening, the prospect of such a shop had caused quite a stir. He has an unlikely interest in cleaning products and went on to share with me the best way to remove a heat stain from a waxed wood table top and how to finish it off with a good quality bees wax polish. He has suggested the Polish shop stock a few fact sheets and he would be happy to share his knowledge in exchange for a few freebies. I get the feeling that beneath his nature notes Jessie likes to do a bit of ducking and diving.
We had a good night. Although little was said I think individually we all had mixed feelings about the compression of time that had happened as a result of our visit to the Establishment.
I’m looking forward to setting up the next stage of our exploration. I had no idea we’d be getting a generator and lighting. I’m sure I’ll still find a use for my Fenix LD50.
Had I returned to Soddenham years ago I may never have caught up on the website and may never have met Les or Jessie let alone become an explorer. My brain is racing and I’m not sure I will sleep much tonight…