I’m not a Townie I’m a country girl at heart. My mother was raised in the Sussex countryside and as a child I learned from her the names of most common wild flowers, trees and birds.
That being said, I had never lived in a village and I had never been a full time mother until I met my present husband, “The Whiz Kid”. Not that he was a villager, far from it, he was living in West Ealing when I met him. His family live in Welling, in Kent and his mother was a true Cockney, born in Bow.
I had lived for many years near Mold in beautiful North Wales but when Whiz and I first lived together, it was in the concrete jungle of Byron Cavendish. We chose BC because of its accessibility to the M99 and its sympathy to family life.
We decided to move from BC to the country for two reasons: I was getting withdrawal symptoms because I couldn’t see any hills, and my daughter, “Horace Ontal”, had gained a place at a grammar school in Duckchester and the journey from BC was long. Her bus left at 7.10am and returned at about 5pm. At the age of 11 this seemed pretty hard so we decided to move a bit nearer to her school.
I am a pretty gregarious person and I’ve lived at too many addresses to count, so I was not concerned about the prospect of starting again in Pebbleditch. I also had a baby, well toddler by this time, and there was a Toddler Group in the village so I knew I could start there in my search for friends. The toddler by the way is now 5 and qualifies for a nickname so I’ll call her“Mavis be the Last” .
It didn’t take me long to realise that Toddler Group was going to be an uphill struggle. I don’t think it was the fact that they were, to use a romantic village-life cliché, suspicious of strangers; I think they were just unfriendly. I kept on going every Tuesday and chatted away as though it were easy and enjoyable, but nobody said “Hey, come for a coffee some time” or even “Nice to see you”. Eventually I did meet a girl, living temporarily in the village while house-hunting, and we struck up a friendship which has lasted despite the fact that she now lives miles away.
Doing something voluntary seemed to be a solution and there were plenty of opportunities. One thing I soon learned about village life is that people have to help themselves, provide their own entertainment and fight to be noticed by the authorities. So when a note dropped onto our door mat asking for a volunteer to edit the Parish Council magazine I decided to offer my services. This would, I reasoned, give me an insight into the workings of a village and put me in touch with some more potential friends.
Meanwhile Horace was trundling ten miles to school in Duckchester each day on the school bus. Horace began her own process of making friends which also involved many false starts, some bullying and, eventually, success. The process probably took two or three years.
What Horace was not doing (apart from studying), was getting involved in village life. For the first year we were here she was ‘studentously’ ignored at the bus stop, even by boys and girls who went to her school. This, as she cheerfully told me a year later, was what happened to Year Sevens, they are beneath contempt, apparently. Perhaps it’s the same for Year One residents in a village?
Having started my editorship of the Pebbleditch Periodical and being the kind of person who hurtles in where even Gabriel would hesitate, I suggested, through the pages of PP, that a Youth Club would be a good idea and I would be prepared to join with others in starting one up. An overwhelming silence greeted my suggestion although several people stopped me in the street and congratulated me on the idea. Eventually, someone else in the village had the same idea and I was invited to join three other mothers of young people to start a village youth group.
I will not go into this experience in too much detail as it is something I prefer to forget. The youth club was a great success and much needed in Pebbleditch. Young people came in their droves and the noise was incredible. I loved it. Horace said, what did she say? She said that there were no circumstances under which she would ever attend such an ‘uncool’ social establishment. She took up Tai Jitterbug in Duckchester.
What I discovered to my cost, though, was that being on a village committee is not like running an I.T. project at work (which I had done in a former life). The rest of the committee and I misunderstood each other entirely and instead of making new friends, I made enemies and discovered the profoundly negative consequence of village gossip. I retired, temporarily, to anonymity to lick my lesions.
This story has a happy conclusion though. I now have many friends in the village. 16 year old Horace has a fantastic social life in Duckchester and sometimes she even brings her friends to visit us in Pebbleditch. I chair an organisation which benefits all young people in the village. And the moral of the tale: well I suppose it’s probably a bit cheeky to paraphrase Kipling, and I can’t say I am this paragon to whom he and I aspire, but who better to have the last word:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when women doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by gossips to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your time to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
…and I apologise for this one:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Parish Councillors – but keep the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If women count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of cheerful laughter,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be grown up, my daughter!