It occurs to me, I should probably tell you a bit more about the village in which I find myself.
There are a little way north of eight-hundred houses, a couple of thousand residents, a primary school, church, village hall, Royal British Legion Club, convenience store, garage, hairdressers and small dentists.
My own dealings with most of these institutions have been somewhat limited.
The primary school has an event every year, near to Christmas, where the children invite their parents and (I’m sure there’s a polite term for it but) older people from within the community, to come and hear them sing Christmas songs.
A little boy called Harvey, whose father I have been drinking with for quite some time, asked me along a couple of years ago. I was one of the “older people from within the community”.
I was thirty-three.
In all fairness, they sang a pretty decent selection of festive songs, had a crack at rapping something of their own composition, and covered ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ by Wizzard, with lyric sheets in hand; this was received with rapturous applause, however, I think we all felt a little more geriatric for knowing every word.
The church: very calm and beautiful. I’ve been to rather more funerals than weddings there and can no longer tolerate the sound of Abide With Me. Less of that, I think.
The village hall: We celebrated the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the Royal British Legion with a dinner. It was hosted by the village hall as there were going to be many more people than could be accommodated within the bounds of the Legion Clubhouse. For the uninitiated, there’s a moment of great respect and solemnity, which is known as the Loyal Toast. What it consists of is somebody (usually a local luminary) encourages those who can, to stand, and raise a toast the Queen.
At the ninetieth, I was madly folding raffle tickets with my friend, Laura. Eyes down, and folding, because the raffle was not far from starting, I’d slightly zoned out. Also, in unfamiliar surroundings, I hadn’t realised that the framed photograph of the Queen, which usually sits over the Legion main bar, had been moved to a wall directly behind my head. There we were, tearing and folding, folding and tearing, and most of the room rose from their seats.
The words of my Chairman echoed across the room, “Ladies and gentlemen. The Queen!”
The response came, “The Queen,” and they all raised their glasses to me.
I ducked quickly, but I’m not sure it counts. I nearly melted into the netball court markings.
The Legion is my home from home. There will be more on that later.
The convenience store has gone through various incarnations over the years. It used to be managed within one family. They had thoughtful and eager staff, expensive but exceptional products of a local and organic persuasion, and all in the 1970s, when everyone was younger. It’s not the rose-tinted spectacles that make people look back fondly on that shop. It genuinely was better. Being frightfully local, everyone knew who to talk to about meat, and which wines went with what. They had a qualified chef on the butcher’s counter. There were large stills of whiskey and brandy upstairs, and a ‘bring an empty bottle’ affair. Weights and Measures won’t allow for that sort of thing now. With all this in mind, I think it goes some way to explain why people still ask the former managers to come out of retirement.
As the former assistant manager from the plastic-fantastic days, I could tell you some stories but I have no idea what would come across as narrative, and what as bile, really.
One lunchtime, I caught my boss rifling through my jacket. Without fail, from that day forward, I carried slightly scandalous underwear in my coat pockets.
As previously reported, we have a lot of greenery in the village. Moss clumps invade the perfectly manicured lawns. There are lots of trees I can’t name. Some people have heated swimming pools or hot tubs. The roads thrum with lorries and tractors, and horses are ridden on almost every public thoroughfare. Plenty of people play golf, do pilates or get up to mostly-benign mischief. Most of us watch rubbish of TV in order to complain about rubbish on TV, others partake in local politics.
For those who haven’t found any of the aforementioned hobbies to their liking, there’s the community speed-watch. These are generally inoffensive people, who stand at the side of the road, during particularly quiet times of day, wearing the brightest of hi-visibility vests, checking everybody’s speed. They often stand at the corner of a T-junction, so I’m not certain they’ve clocked anyone going over 12mph in quite some time.
Arguably, they could stand one of Speed-Watch in the middle of the road to give us something to aim for.
They could use one of their fitter members. I’m not a sadist.
We’re a little out of the way here. Please don’t misunderstand me, we have electricity. Having been a teenager here, I can tell you categorically, there is nothing for the young people to do until they can drive. Then again, we have a very low crime rate, starlight and birdsong, so it balances out.
It’s also really quiet. There is a texture to this kind of stillness; it is the stuff of migraines. If you’re reading this in the city, it must sound like heaven. I’m from Croydon. I grew up with the sound of a street light buzzing outside my bedroom window, and a plastic bag in every tree. I used to sleep with the TV on, otherwise I wouldn’t sleep.
Oh, and we’ve just got a parish council. There has to be someone in charge, otherwise we might lose ourselves to Bacchanalian insanity.
So why, you may ask, am I sitting indoors, writing this letter of both love and complaint on yet another excruciatingly hot day?
It’s good discipline for the inevitable novel.