‘Tall, dark and handsome’ was always the first response to Rufus Stone. Six feet, two inches tall, his thick, dark brown curly forelocks cascaded on his brow. It was the intensity of his electric blue eyes, however, on which most strangers commented enviously.
Upon arrival in London at 18, his youth and good looks could have been his meal ticket. Nonetheless, Rufus concentrated on his love of photography and eventually got a post as assistant to a Notting Hill photographer. He consequently went on to take his own pictures of some of the most famous celebrities of the Sixties and, from those connections, later moved into advertising then television production—first as a cameraman, then an editor and later a director of some important documentaries made at the BBC.
Rufus never had problems attracting men, or women for that matter. His looks, talent and career were the calling cards that engrossed his admirers. He is one of the lucky ones, because as he aged he held on to his good looks too. In fact, some compare him now to older stars such as Terrence Stamp or even Sean Connery. His hair is now silver grey, but he hates the nickname, ‘Silver Fox’, with a passion. He still possesses those chiselled cheekbones, a slim build and his famous blue eyes. At 70, Rufus continues to turn heads, both male and female.
His country upbringing produced by necessity a quiet boy who turned into a quiet-spoken man. In the hustle and bustle of London, this actually became another asset. A man of few words suggests that he means what he says and this is a welcomed relief from the insincerity familiar amongst some Londoners, particularly in the midst of the glitterati of television and film. Rufus’ most famous remark in response to the luvvies in the film crowd, when asked if he enjoyed meeting celebrities at the Groucho Club, was his admitting, ‘Never been’.
Whenever I prepare the motor for a long trip, it reminds me of those Saturday journeys to the market as a child when we neatly packed my father’s automobile with wooden boxes of vegetables. There were so many boxes that there was hardly room in the back seat of my parent’s saloon for me and my sister Ellie.
Today I am stuffing the back seat of my Mini with my cameras and boxes of photographs and a few bits and bobs that wouldn’t matter to naught but me for the long trip back to Chadsford Village in Somerset. I am returning to my birthplace after 50 years of London life and its adventures. The removal van went down to Somerset a day ahead of me with my furniture and the rest of my belongings.
London is now just a routine to me, nothing to get excited about these days. After years of fighting the Tube, the crime and grime, the congestion charge and getting around London, I am ready to leave it behind. The rushing, pushing and shoving—‘Sorry, sorry, sorry!’—that hollow apology ringing out from every pub, street and shop, I’ve had enough. I think I am now ready to finally return to a quiet life in the countryside.
When my parents sold their Somerset farm, quite a few years back now, they bought a small cottage in the nearby village of Chadsford to live out their retirement. My father passed not long after. My mother recently died, but not before she had one last go at me over the telephone about what a disappointment I had been to her and my father and how their life in the village was made a misery after that ‘fuss’ around the ‘filthy’ business that I stirred up just before I left for good. She said that she never would forgive me for that. I suppose I was still 18 years old in her mind, even though I was by then approaching 70. Perhaps if she had forgiven me all those years ago, she would have died more peacefully and I might not be making this journey now. Time will tell.
The money that remained from the sale of the farm went to my sister who emigrated to Australia. She married out there and has three children. My parents' small worker’s cottage was deeded to me along with my grandfather’s tall case clock that I am particularly fond of. Their generosity took me by surprise, actually. I don’t think it had anything to do with their forgiveness though, more to do with family duty and doing what was expected of them, doing the “right thing”.
Fed up with London, I decided to finally retire to Somerset and that cottage. Most of my friends say that I am mad and will regret it. Still, they promise to come down for long weekends if I will entertain them properly. Most are involved in television production or the theatre. They would create quite a picture invading conservative Chadsford! At least I think they would, since I haven’t lived in the village of Chadsford for half a century.
As I prepare to head out of Islington and make my way towards the A-4, I wonder if I can go back. Can we ever go back and expect things to turn out differently? Of course, I am not the same person today. I have a lifetime of experiences, working as a photographer and making films for television, and the relationships that I have had certainly changed me. I am no longer that young lad who was driven out by the villagers because of their ignorance and my fears all those years back, that’s for certain.
Rufus turns on the SatNav in his red classic Mini, happy to rely on a posh but strict recorded woman’s voice telling him which way to go. He has named her “Sadie”, after his deceased mother. Such nomenclature is a London kind of cheekiness that would have provided Freud with a field day in this case. For Rufus, the decision to leave is finally no longer in his hands, but has been taken over by a programmed voice. “Sadie” knows what’s best for him and what he should do and what his next move should be.
As he turns off early morning Upper Street, it’s cafés’ workers cleaning up the pavement real estate occupied by drunken revellers the night before, he turns on the radio. The Adagio of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G is playing. Rufus makes a mental note to himself that this piece of music would provide a perfect soundtrack for some film of the more rural segments of his journey. His mind is never far from the editing room. Rufus sinks into the Mini’s leather upholstery and deeper into his memories. His driving becomes routine.
Who is it that keenly waits for a conclusion to our story of Rufus Stone? Is it us, impatient for a happy ending? Is it young innocent Rufus who wants to finally go back and change the ending of this story of his first love? Does he believe that by making this return in time and place that he can reignite the love, passion and intimacy of his youth? Or is it wiser and older Rufus who has realised that what matters most to him is to come to terms with the past at the end of his days? Can he even, perhaps, find forgiveness in this tiny pastoral corner of the earth? Can we ever go back “home”? Or is it our memories, with all of their twists, turns and imaginations that propel us into an abyss created by our (re)constructed pasts?
Rufus reconsiders the countryside of his youth as he drives.
It is a memory of a five-year old boy sitting on his grandfather’s lap. Granddad’s hand, rough and worn from working the land, his thumbnail somehow permanently split, reaches into the pocket of his tattered woollen trousers and magically produces a cellophane-wrapped peppermint sweet for the boy. The tall case clock ticks in the background, the same clock that ended up in his parent’s farmhouse hallway. The sound of this clock has always provided Rufus with comfort in times of crisis. It is recollections of his grandfather that most warmly represent the countryside to Rufus.
Rufus recalls pushing his sister’s pram up dirt paths on the hillside, away from the family farm and the village—as far away as he could get the two of them. He remembers the feeling of searching for his own private landscape where his thoughts could finally be free and be his own.
Later, he remembers walks along the railway tracks with his sister. It’s the majesty of the sky and the smell of wild grasses mixed with the scent of oil on the railway sleepers, more than a revisualisation of their footsteps, which provoke his recall. It is the sounds of the train approaching, spewing and hissing steam—these sounds as much an invasion of their privacy as they portend the thrill of travel to unknown, yet-to-be-seen places.
He remembers getting to know the workers on that independent rail line and one of them taking him into the signal box that day. That was the day he learned about the physical stirrings that his body provoked in others and acts that are prohibited between a boy and a man. Pleasure, guilt and the forbidden became joined-up thinking from that day forward for young Rufus.
And it is Flip. Oh striking, beautiful Flip. Years of searching have never produced such innocent attractiveness again. If Rufus could only experience it again, to be in his presence, to walk with him arm in arm!
Rufus imagines one last attempt at resolving his youthful crisis somehow. He knows that he still must seek acceptance in order to love openly and freely amongst his peers in rural England. The law may have changed in his lifetime, but acceptance is still not a legacy for him and his kind and particularly not for his generation in the countryside. This is the kind of tolerance that is fundamentally socially constructed by one’s peers. Life has taught him this hard truth. In his imaginings, Rufus hopes, at least in his case, to make this finally possible.
This is the way in which our story now twists and turns. By consulting his memories, our Rufus is now gambling on his imagined past. This is probably the bravest risk of his entire life, or the most foolish one. This is the way in which he decided to return to Chadsford.
Rufus makes stops at several lay-bys and overlooks along his route to take in scenic views. At each of these breaks in the journey, he gets out his cameras and shoots some pictures or video of the bucolic English countryside with its well-represented patchwork of hedgerows and fields. Particularly noteworthy for Rufus are the points along the narrower roads where they suddenly turn and reveal sweeping vistas.
His journey makes it way, first, through the less familiar Thomas Hardy country of Dorset and then on to Henry Fielding’s Somerset. Here, it is as though he is seeing his birthplace for the first time. After almost 50 years, it may as well be. He laughs to himself when he sees the cows in the fields lying down and remembers that this means that it is going to rain. Once a country boy… He remarks to himself how nothing much has changed, except for the condition of the roads themselves.
Rufus continues on the narrow road from Blackdown, which will then take him past the farm where he grew up. He next motors through the village of Chadsford with its Norman church, graveyard and village hall. He arrives just the other side of the village at the two adjoining cottages stepped back from the narrow road itself by small front gardens—the cottage where he will now be living. These are modest dwellings, untouched by any recent re-gentrification or ‘in-comers’.
As Rufus pulls up, he notices the net curtains rustling quizzically in the adjoining cottage’s front window. Rufus smiles as he begins to unpack the back seat of the car. Could it be possible that, after all these years and all that has transpired in his life in the meantime, that he is lucky enough to have inherited the cottage right next to Flip’s? Of course not, for this is not where our story ends. Rufus must confront his past, not just be absorbed into it. He has been dreaming for most of the journey and this fantasy ending is just Rufus’ daydream finale. We must be patient as an audience and not jump to conclusions ourselves.
Rufus takes his box of treasured cameras from the car and carries them to the front door of his new abode. He fiddles a bit with the lock on the door at first, but it then swings open to reveal his furniture that arrived from London yesterday. These few familiar possessions from his London life make him feel somehow more at peace with his decision and he goes inside. Rufus sees the case clock that has been left to him standing the middle of the front room. It is not ticking. The first thing he will do, before he even removes his coat, is wind it and get it running again.
In the adjoining cottage, still twitching the net curtains at her window and hoping for a better view of this handsome stranger’s arrival, Abigail White begins to grin. ‘What luck!’ she thinks. As she see this stranger enter the house next door, she reaches for her trademark crimson lipstick and applies it hurriedly, hikes up her bra straps and throws on a cardy. She is ready to make her first move.
About to go out the front door, she remembers, returns to the kitchen and fetches a bottle of Chardonnay to take as a welcome gift. As long as she is in the kitchen, she might as well down the remainder of the glass of wine from the other bottle that she opened earlier that morning.
Fully armoured now, Abigail goes to the cottage next door to meet her new match, or at least she thinks so.
Read the first instalment here:Rufus Stone: 1.
Read the second instalment here:
Rufus Stone: 2.
Press on choice of Appignanesi and plans for filming Rufus Stone this Summer.
This is the third instalment of the background story for the short film, Rufus Stone, to be produced as the key output of our three-year research project, "Gay and Pleasant Land? -a study about positioning, ageing and gay life in rural South West England and Wales ". The Project is a work package in the New Dynamics of Ageing Project, "Grey and Pleasant Land?: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Connectivity of Older People in Rural Civic Society" and funded by the British Research Councils.
The first of several articles on the research process is now available: 'Connecting Participatory Methods in a Study of Older Lesbian and Gay Citizens in Rural Areas' in the International Journal of Qualitative Research.
A second article, 'Exploring Sexuality, Ageing and Rurality in a
Multi-Method, Performative Project' is now available electronically from the British Journal of Social Work.
Two short A/V pieces we created for conference/workshop dissemination are also available. They both give the background and an overview of the methods used in the project.
Gay and Pleasant Land?
Exploring sexuality, ageing and rurality in a multi-method project