following text is an extract from "The Death of Grass" written in 1956
by Samuel Youd (aka John Christopher).
The novel, whose author was born in Lancashire in 1922, is set in the future, after a plant virus has killed off
grass and food crops throughout the world, creating widespread famine
and the breakdown of civilisation. The central characters are travelling from the South of England to find
a hidden valley in the Lake District where they believe that they will
be able to survive and defend themselves from the rioting and looting
that is spreading throughout the country.
The story was made
a film called "No Blade of Grass", produced
and directed by Cornel Wilde, and released in 1970.
In March 2009, as part of a BBC Radio 4 science fiction
season, a radio adaptatation was broadcast in five
episodes, narrated by David Mitchell.
The following is an extract, relating their journey down
from Wensleydale. Some details are not quite accurate
Occasional clarifications are shown thus: [...].
Mention of local places has been highlighted in bold.
As they climbed up to Mossdale
Head, the sky darkened continually, and gusts of rain
swept in their faces. These increased as they neared the ridge [???], and
they breasted it to see the western sky black and stormy over the
rolling moors. They had four light plastic mackintoshes in the packs,
which John told the women to put on. The boys would have to learn to
contend with being wet; although the temperature was lower than it had
been, the day was still reasonably warm. The rain thickened as they
walked on. Within half an hour, men and boys were both soaked. John had
crossed the Pennines by this route before, but only by car. There had
been a sense of isolation about the pass even then, a feeling of being
in a country swept of life, despite the road and the railway line that
hugged it [further back].
That feeling now was more than doubly intensified. There
were few things, John thought, so desolate as a railway line on which
no train could be expected. And where the pattern of the moors seen
from a moving car had been monotonous, the monotony to people on foot,
struggling through rain squalls, was far greater. The moors themselves
were barer, of course. The heather still grew, but the moorland grasses
were gone; the outcrops of rocks jutted like teeth in the head of a
skull. During the morning, they passed occasional small parties heading
in the opposite direction. Once again, there was mutual suspicion and
avoidance. One group of three had their belongings strapped on a
donkey. John and the others stared at it with amazement. Someone
presumably had kept it alive on dry fodder after the other beasts of
burden were killed along with the cattle, but once away from its barn
it would have to starve. Roger said: 'A variation of the old sleigh-dog
technique, I imagine. You get it to take you as far as you can, and
then eat it.' 'It's a standing temptation to any other party
to meet, though, isn't it?' John said. 'I can't see them getting very
far with that once they reach the Dale.' Pirrie said: 'We could relieve
them of it now.' 'No,' John said. 'It isn't worth our while, in any
case. We've got enough meat to last us, and we should reach Blind Gill [the hidden valley] tomorrow.
It would only be unnecessary weight.' Steve began limping
shortly afterwards, and examination showed him to have a blistered
heel. Olivia said: 'Steve! Why didn't you say something when it first
started hurting?' He looked at the adult faces surrounding him, and his
ten-year-old assurance deserted him. He began to cry. 'There's nothing
to cry about, old man,' Roger said. 'A blistered heel is bad luck, but
it's not the end of the world.' His sobs were not the ordinary sobs of
childhood, but those in which experience beyond a child's range was
released from its confinement. He said something, and Roger bent down
to catch his words. 'What was that, Steve?' 'If I couldn't walk -- I
thought you might leave me.' Roger and Olivia looked at each
Roger said: 'Nobody's going to leave you. How on earth could you think
that?' 'Mr. Pirrie left Millicent,' Steve said.
John intervened. 'He'd
better not walk on it. It will only get worse.' 'I'll carry
said. 'Spooks, will you carry my gun for me?' Spooks nodded.
to.' 'You and I will take him in turns, Rodge,' John said. 'We'll
manage him all right. Good job he's a little 'un.' Olivia said: 'Roger
and I can take the turns. He's our boy. We can carry him.' She had not
spoken to John since the incident of Jane and Pirrie. John said to her:
'Olivia-I do the arranging around here. Roger and I will carry Steve.
You can take the pack of whoever happens to be doing it at the time.'
Their eyes held for a moment, and then she turned away. Roger said:
'All right, old son. Up you get.' Their progress immediately after this
was a little faster, since Steve had been acting as a brake, but John
was not deceived by it. The carrying of a passenger, even a boy as
small as Steve, added to their difficulties. He kept them going until
they had nearly got to the end of Garsdale,
before he called a halt for
their midday meal. The wind, which had been carrying the rain into
their faces, had dropped, but the rain itself was still falling, and in
a steadier and more soaking downpour. John looked round the unpromising
scene. 'Anybody see a cave and a pile of firewood stacked inside? I
thought not. A cold snack today, and water. And we can rest our legs a
little.' ` Ann said: 'Couldn't we find somewhere dry to eat it?' About
fifty yards along the road, there was a small house, standing back.
John followed her gaze towards it. 'It might be empty,' he said. 'But
we should have to go up to it and find out, shouldn't we? And then it
might not be empty after all. I don't mind us taking risks when it's
for something we must have, like food, but it isn't worth it for half
an hour's shelter.' 'Davey's soaked,' she said. 'Half an hour won't dry
him out. And that's all the time we can spare.' He called to the boy:
'How are you, Davey? Wet?' Davey nodded. 'Yes, Dad.' . 'Try laughing
drily.' It was an old joke. Davey did his best to smile at it. John
went over and rumpled his wet hair. 'You're doing fine,' he said.
extract is reproduced here under "fair use of a relatively short quotation"
The western approach to Garsdale
had been through a narrow strip of good grazing land [???] which now, in
steady rain, was a band of mud, studded here and there with farm
buildings. They looked down to Sedbergh,
resting between hills and valley on the other side of the Rawthey. Smoke lay
above it, and drifted westwards [???]
along the edge of the moors. Sedbergh
was burning. 'Looters,' Roger said. John swung his glasses over the
stone-built town. 'We're meeting the north-western stream [of people] now;
they've had the extra day to get here. All the same, it's a bit of a
shaker. I thought this part would still be quiet.' 'It might not be so
bad,' Roger said, 'if we cut north [over
straight away and get past on the
higher ground. It might not be so bad up in the Lune valley.' Pirrie
said: 'When a town like that goes under, I should expect all the
valleys around to be in a dangerous condition. It is not going to be
easy.' John had directed the glasses beyond the ravaged town
mouth of the dale along which they had proposed to travel. He could
make out movements but it was impossible to know what they constituted.
Smoke rose from isolated buildings. There was an alternative route,
across the moors to Kendal, but that also took them over the Lune. In
any case if Sedbergh had fallen, was there any reason to think things
were any better around Kendal?