I have lived in the same house since I was 18 months old. Twenty years in a village with one church, one post office, one pub, one bookshop, one jeweller and one interior designer. And a population of roughly 3000. It is featured in the Domesday book. The pavements are cobbled. The church was constructed in the twelfth century. You can picture it. Average age must be nearly 75. I was concerned about the inevitable readjustment necessary for me to settle back after St Andrews.
As we drove down the High Street with my life in the car, we encountered perhaps the most iconic village sight. Our postmaster, who is consistently, unavoidably, chronically, late. On any given day, there is a strong possibility that he will puff into your path, muttering “I’m late! I’m late!” with his cardigan flapping behind him. Unbelievable for two reasons. One: he is perpetually surprised by his own inability to keep time. Two: his uncanny similarity to Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit. Our postmaster sports snow-white hair, has the same catchphrase on repeat, and his eyes are glued to his watch. Unbelievable, but true.
The post office itself is a symbol of the village. Some years ago the small grocery store attached to the post office was being sold. It was not viable for a private investor, but the community recognised the urgent need for accessible essentials for the elderly population. So the village purchased the shop and post office. Residents gave loans, or donations, and aside from a few part time post office representatives and a manager, it is staffed entirely by volunteers.
Whilst unpacking bags on the driveway, a neighbour strolled past. Another village-wide mannerism reared its head: having not seen me for some months, she enquired first after our dog. Talk then turned to the annual Village of the Year competition. A borderline-militant committee spends months planning a colour scheme, weeding the public spaces, and this year installing a village sign (which remains the subject of fierce debate). The aforementioned neighbour had refused to follow the prescribed colour scheme, causing uproar. We sympathised. Our garden features an Evergreen Oak. The committee asked us for photographs of our tree, and when we suggested the judges come and see it themselves were told that our lane is “too messy”.
I have spent the summer being tickled by the particulars of life in a tight-knit rural community. There are committees for everything. There are also endless rotas. Every conversation must be held over tea, or coffee, or wine, depending on the time. Everyone knows everything. My mother was informed by a neighbour that I, her 21 year old daughter, had left the village without weatherproof apparel on a day when rain was forecast for the afternoon.
However, as much as I have laughed, I have smiled more. This is a true community. Neighbours don’t just offer one another a cup of sugar, they drive each other to the airport at four in the morning. They feed, support and inspire each other. Here, the spirit of the English country village remains alive and well. And after a few months of seeing it with outside eyes, I certainly hope it remains so.
Image Credit – Philip Talmage