It’s hard to explain the place where I live. Okay, the specifics are easy: it’s a little place, a hamlet, in South Warwickshire, nestling in the bosom of Bard country (which always makes me smile: hamlet/Hamlet). No shop. No pub. A phonebox (which doesn’t take coins and which nobody uses, anyway). A letterbox. A pond. A Big House. Lesser big houses, houses bigger than cottages, cottages. A working farm. A still-functioning church. Countryside of great beauty. Etc, etc.
So far, so good. A picture postcard Rural Idyll, only needing Miss Marple (not that there’s any great mystery she can solve whilst knitting and sipping a glass of sherry).
However, the essence of a place is not its physical features: it’s the people.
And this small corner of Middle Englandshire is blessed with a wonderful array of people.
Describing life in such a small community is difficult. On one hand it could sound nauseatingly neighbourly. On the other, benignly bonkers.
I dislike the term “community spirit” because it reeks of worthy creatures, aka nosy busybodies (worse still is “caring community”, which sounds patronising). But I am unable to think of alternatives. There is a tremendous spirit in the village, and there is also caring. I suppose it’s because there are (being slightly generous in my counting) 30 houses: we are close knit but not to the point of suffocation. It’s inevitable that one does know when someone is ill, when there are times of grief or unhappiness or worry. And the support system kicks in, not with a clarion call to arms with faux concern: just a natural response. It might be taking round a stew or some soup, doing the shopping, sitting and talking, phoning up (which sounds crazed: why phone somebody who lives two steps away, but actually the phone sometimes is awfully silent when you’re feeling at an ebb which is lower than its lowest, and just a call to say hello is really uplifting). Simply being there is what matters, with as much or as little help as is needed…or, indeed, wanted.
Putting aside the rather Pollyanna bilious attack of the last paragraph, we’re not an enclave of Goody Two Shoes. But it doesn’t take rocket science to realise it’s a case of “We’re All In It Together”: the moment those who live here become anonymous is the moment the village begins to breathe its last. For now, everyone knows everybody else (and the names of EVERY DOG IN THE VILLAGE: go for a walk, and the dog is greeted before the person!) and, yes, we do get caught up in the lives of others. However, the village is not to be thought of as being in a time warp of years gone by. We are not Larkrise to Candleford (much) nor, indeed, do we inhabit Vicar of Dibley territory (I can’t believe my fingers allowed me to type that: we have very Vic of Dib moments) (although I am not that woman who makes strawberry jam and Marmite sandwiches).
One of my Vic of Dib moments was while I was doing the flowers in the church one summer’s Saturday afternoon: the treasured dog was with me. I was trying to do something rather complicated on the windowsill behind the altar which involved moving the altar so I could sit on it…I was wearing shorts and a repellent T-shirt, and was without shoes. An American couple (doing a visiting of family-places-of-times-past) walked in and were amazed, and then charmed, when a labrador rushed up to greet them. And, such was the eccentricity of the moment, they didn’t think it remotely peculiar that this woman was sitting, cross-legged, on the altar clutching an armful of lilies.) (They took photographs…not of me, but of my dog sitting by the altar (not ON the altar, I hasten to add.)
And so it goes on. The village has been on telly, some documentary about the honours system and the names chosen by people if they get “Lorded”. A camera crew spent an entire day in this little corner of Paradise, desperate to interview someone who would say something contentious. Abject failure. Just lots of free-range Labradors saying hello (interviewing person terrified of being eaten alive: I – helpfully? – said he was more likely to be licked to death) and the people they interviewed/filmed saying, without exception, that they couldn’t give a toss about somebody choosing to become Lord Whatsit of Here, as long as a) he didn’t get ideas above his station and b) the village wasn’t overrun with coachloads of tourists which might upset the ducks on the pond (said with a straight face: the interviewer failed to register that the interviewee was teasing). In terms of what I imagine was the concept of the programme, it was a bit of a disaster.
None of us saw this programme. My mother did. She phoned me to say it was all frightfully interesting, it was lovely seeing my dog but it was a great pity I’d not brushed my hair beforehand.
I could go on, trying to explain the magic that is here. And the things which are done to keep the village going: we party awfully well – any excuse to have a bit of do. But I mustn’t continue, for fear of boring whoever might read this. Suffice to say, this Rural Idyll is very special. I count my blessings to live in a place I love so dearly. The spirit, care and friendship that make up the village’s foundations are all things in which I am proud to be a part.