THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS
John Wyndham was born in 1903. Until 1911 he lived in Edgbaston, Birmingham, and then in many parts of England. After a wide experience of the English preparatory school he was at Bedales from 1918 till 1921. Careers which he tried included farming, law, commercial art, and advertising; he first started writing short stories, intended for sale, in 1925. From 1930 till 1939 he wrote stories of various kinds under different names, almost exclusively for American publications. He also wrote detective novels. During the war he was in the Civil Service and afterwards in the Army. In 1946 he went back to writing stories for publication in the U.S.A. and decided to try a modified form of what is unhappily known as ‘science fiction’. He wrote The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes (both of which have been translated into several languages), The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed as The Village of the Damned), The Seeds of Time, The Outward Urge (with Lucas Parkes), Trouble with Lichen, Consider Her Ways and Others and Chocky (1968), all of which have been published as Penguins. John Wyndham died in March 1969.
1 No Entry to Midwich
2 All Quiet in Midwich
3 Midwich Rests
4 Operation Midwich
5 Midwich Reviviscit
6 Midwich Settles Down
7 Coming Events
8 Heads Together
9 Keep it Dark
10 Midwich Comes to Terms
11 Well Played, Midwich
12 Harvest Home
13 Midwich Centrocline
14 Matters Arising
15 Matters to Arise
16 Now We Are Nine
17 Midwich Protests
18 Interview With a Child
21 Zellaby of Macedon
No Entry to Midwich
ONE of the luckiest accidents in my wife’s life is that she happened to marry a man who was born on the 26th of September. But for that, we should both of us undoubtedly have been at home in Midwich on the night of the 26th – 27th, with consequences which, I have never ceased to be thankful, she was spared.
Because it was my birthday, however, and also to some extent because I had the day before received and signed a contract with an American publisher, we set off on the morning of the 26th for London, and a mild celebration. Very pleasant, too. A few satisfactory calls, lobster and Chablis at Wheeler’s, Ustinov’s latest extravaganza, a little supper, and so back to the hotel where Janet enjoyed the bathroom with that fascination which other people’s plumbing always arouses in her.
Next morning, a leisurely departure on the way back to Midwich. A pause in Trayne, which is our nearest shopping town, for a few groceries; then on along the main road, through the village of Stouch, then the right-hand turn on to the secondary road for – But, no. Half the road is blocked by a pole from which dangles a notice ‘ROAD CLOSED’, and in the gap beside it stands a policeman who holds up his hand …
So I stop. The policeman advances to the offside of the car, I recognize him as a man from Trayne.
‘Sorry, sir, but the road is closed.’
‘You mean I’ll have to go round by the Oppley Road?’
”Fraid that’s closed, too, sir.’
There is the sound of a horn behind.
“F you wouldn’t mind backing off a bit to the left, sir.’
Rather bewildered, I do as he asks, and past us and past him goes an army three-ton lorry with khaki-clad youths leaning over the sides.
‘Revolution in Midwich?’ I inquire.
‘Manoeuvres,’ he tells me. ‘The road’s impassable.’
‘Not both roads surely? We live in Midwich, you know, Constable.’
‘I know, sir. But there’s no way there just now. ‘F I was you, sir, I’d go back to Trayne till we get it clear. Can’t have parking here, ‘cause of getting things through.’
Janet opens the door on her side and picks up her shopping-bag.
‘I’ll walk on, and you come along when the road’s clear,’ she tells me.
The constable hesitates. Then he lowers his voice.
‘Seein’ as you live there, ma’am, I’ll tell you – but it’s confidential like. ‘Tisn’t no use tryin’, ma’am. Nobody can’t get into Midwich, an’ that’s a fact.’
We stare at him.
‘But why on earth not?’ says Janet.
‘That’s just what they’re tryin’ to find out, ma’am. Now, ‘f you was to go to the Eagle in Trayne, I’ll see you’re informed as soon as the road’s clear.’
Janet and I looked at one another.
‘Well,’ she said to the constable, ‘it seems very queer, but if you’re quite sure we can’t get through …’
‘I am that, ma’am. It’s orders, too. We’ll let you know, as soon as maybe.’
If one wanted to make a fuss, it was no good making it with him; the man was only doing his duty, and as amiably as possible.
‘Very well,’ I agreed. ‘Gayford’s my name, Richard Gayford. I’ll tell the Eagle to take a message for me in case I’m not there when it comes.’
I backed the car further until we were on the main road, and, taking his word for it that the other Midwich road was similarly closed, turned back the way we had come. Once we were the other side of Stouch village I pulled off the road into a field gateway.
‘This,’ I said, ‘has a very odd smell about it. Shall we cut across the fields, and see what’s going on?’
‘That policeman’s manner was sort of queer, too. Let’s,’ Janet agreed, opening her door.
What made it the more odd was that Midwich was, almost notoriously, a place where things did not happen.
Janet and I had lived there just over a year then, and found this to be almost its leading feature. Indeed, had there been posts at the entrances to the village bearing a red triangle and below them a notice:
they would have seemed not inappropriate. And why Midwich should have been singled out in preference to any one of a thousand other villages for the curious event of the 26th of September seems likely to remain a mystery for ever.
For consider the simple ordinariness of the place.
Midwich lies roughly eight miles west-north-west of Trayne. The main road westward out of Trayne runs through the neighbouring villages of Stouch and Oppley, from each of which secondary roads lead to Midwich. The village itself is therefore at the apex of a road triangle which has Oppley and Stouch at its lower corners; its only other highway being a lane which rolls in a Chestertonian fashion some five miles to reach Hickham which is three miles north.
At the heart of Midwich is a triangular Green ornamented by five fine elms and a white-railed pond. The war memorial stands in the churchward corner of the Green, and spaced out round the sides are the church itself, the vicarage, the inn, the smithy, the post office, Mrs Welt’s shop, and a number of cottages. Altogether, the village comprises some sixty cottages and small houses, a village hall, Kyle Manor, and The Grange.
The church is mostly perp. and dec., but with a Norman west doorway and font. The vicarage is Georgian; The Grange Victorian; Kyle Manor has Tudor roots with numerous later graftings. The cottages show most of the styles which have existed between the two Elizabeths, but even more recent than the two latest County Council cottages are the utilitarian wings that were added to The Grange when the Ministry took it over for Research.
The existence of Midwich has never been convincingly accounted for. It was not in a strategic position to hold a market, not even across a packway of any importance. It appears, at some unknown time, simply to have occurred; the Domesday survey notes it as a hamlet, and it has continued as little more, for the railway age ignored it, as had the coach roads, and even the navigation canals.
So far as is known, it rests upon no desirable minerals: no official eye ever saw it as a likely site for an aerodrome, or a bombing-range, or a battle school; only the Ministry intruded, and the reconditioning of The Grange had little effect upon the village life. Midwich has – or rather, had – lived and drowsed upon its good soil in Arcadian undistinction for a thousand years; and there seemed, until the late evening of the 26th of September, no reason why it should not so to do for the next millennium, too.
This must not be taken, however, to mean that Midwich is altogether without history. It has had its moments. In 1931 it was the centre of an untraced outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. And in 1916 an off-course Zeppelin unloaded a bomb which fell in a ploughed field and fortunately failed to explode. And before that it hit the headlines – well, anyway, the broadsheets – when Black Ned, a second-class highwayman, was shot on the steps of The Scythe and Stone Inn by Sweet Polly Parker, and although this gesture of reproof appears to have been of a more personal than social nature, she was, nevertheless, much lauded for it in the ballads of 1768.