Your vil­lage needs you

Noth­ing would get done in the coun­try­side with­out these stal­warts of vil­lage life. Here, COUN­TRY LIFE finds the essential char­ac­ters who make the world go round

Country Life Every Week - - A Walking Life - Il­lus­tra­tions by John Holder

The vicar

The Rev Geral­dine is des­per­ate for a gin and tonic. The Even­song con­gre­ga­tion num­bered eight, in­clud­ing Col Blenk­in­sop’s wire-haired dachshund, Hebe, grum­bling away in a pew— her owner re­mains stuck in 1662, bel­low­ing over what’s on the ser­vice sheet—and the or­gan­ist lost count of the verses in The King of Love. She’s taken four ser­vices in four dif­fer­ent parishes to­day—she had to forgo two roast-lunch in­vi­ta­tions to do a chris­ten­ing, but that’s bet­ter than hav­ing to eat three Har­vest Sup­pers. Geral­dine’s ar­rival at St Bo­tolph’s caused a bit of a stir—it was the pur­ple hair streaks rather than her sex—but Holy Com­mu­nion at the old folks’ home has never been so well at­tended and even Col Blenk­in­sop says it’s worth be­ing ill for a visit from the vicar and Moses, her cheer­ful Bat­tersea mutt.

The re­tiree

Chair­ing the par­ish coun­cil has given Jim some­thing to get stuck into be­sides bird­watch­ing—he spot­ted a hoopoe through the tele­scope while on traf­fic-flow mon­i­tor­ing du­ties this morn­ing, which he’ll post on the vil­lage Face­book page— and teach­ing nav­i­ga­tion to the Cubs. (Dai the Shop thinks it’s funny to greet him with a ‘Morn­ing, Ad­mi­ral!’—he hasn’t had the heart to ad­mit that he only made com­modore.) Jim’s gen­tle but firm tones—he could make a sink­ing ship sound no more alarm­ing than the cap­siz­ing of a boat in the bath—will come in handy when he has to break the news about the hous­ing plan at the open meet­ing in the vil­lage hall next week. His se­cret am­bi­tion is to be an MP, but mar­i­tal har­mony with Ur­sula took a long time to re­cover from Brexit; se­cur­ing the lo­cal Cabi­net mem­ber to open the fête and count­ing slips at the polling sta­tion is prob­a­bly as good as it’ll get.

‘The or­gan­ist lost count of the verses in The King of Love

The bossy lady

If you want some­thing done, ask a busy woman. Aram­inta (Minty to friends) is count­ing the con­tents of her Red Cross col­lect­ing tin—twice as full as any­one else’s (‘What do you mean you’ve got a di­rect debit? I’m not tak­ing no for an an­swer!’)— while wait­ing for a Dundee cake to rise for to­mor­row’s Can­cer Re­search cof­fee morn­ing and Ze­phyr the whip­pet, pant­ing pa­thet­i­cally by the Aga, to pup. There’s a call to make to a farmer who still hasn’t moved his sheep out of the Pony Club rally field and a re­minder to Brown Owl that she can’t have the vil­lage hall on Tues­day be­cause of the Coun­try­side Al­liance whist drive. There’s just time to put her feet up with a whisky and The Archers— Lynda Snell is her hero­ine—be­fore the play re­hearsal. She’s a nat­u­ral Lady Brack­nell, ev­ery­one tells her. You’d never know she’s turn­ing 80 next month.

The new­comer

Gavin won­ders if he hasn’t bit­ten off more than he can chew with The Im­por­tance of Be­ing Earnest. He was so flat­tered to be asked that he couldn’t ad­mit that he’s a BBC lawyer, not the pro­ducer of Ta­boo. Lady Brack­nell goes berserk if prompted and the Rev Cha­suble makes it up as he goes along—the only one who’s learned their lines is Miss Prism, that nice school­teacher. Gavin has been at Wis­te­ria Cot­tage for six months, dur­ing which time he’s been tapped for a ten­ner in the tin for seven char­i­ties and some­how parted with a 1961 Château Lafite for the tombola; he’s proof­read the par­ish mag, sourced Alan Titch­marsh’s email for the WI, lis­tened to Col Blenk­in­sop’s Brexit con­spir­acy the­ory five times, apol­o­gised four times for not play­ing bridge, made three spu­ri­ous ex­cuses to get Seth round to do the gut­ter­ing, run the co­conut shy, walked Mrs Tit­mouse’s bor­der ter­rier while her knee was gammy and, best of all, opened the bat­ting for the cricket team. He’s never go­ing back to Wim­ble­don.

The lo­cal celebrity

Anoushka loves it that no one had a clue who she was un­til her short-lived stint on Strictly. Her sou’wester, over­alls and va­cant vil­lage-id­iot act—‘Aaar, Miss ’Noushka’s gone up to town to make another of them floppy discs’— still bam­boo­zles the hope­ful pa­parazzi who train their lenses as she milks her cute black-and-white Zwart­bles sheep or feeds her res­cue bat­tery hens. Her par­ents, who vis­ited from Ukraine last year, think she must be mad to want to live in a con­verted pig­gery (even if it does have un­der-floor heat­ing) in­stead of a gated com­mu­nity in town, but skit­tle night at the Fer­ret and Sack beats the bor­ing old Brit Awards hands down and Seth was very help­ful when he came to fix the bur­glar alarm. Judg­ing the dog show is just her favourite thing—she’s got an adorable cock­apoo puppy on or­der.

The lad

You know spring’s on the way when Seth takes off his shirt to mow the lawn. He makes el­derly ladies nos­tal­gic, mid­dleaged ones rest­less and comes with a warn­ing for young ones. He’s ever so strong—although his elevenses in­take is start­ing to tell—and is your man for roof­ing, log­ging, hedge-cut­ting, mole-catch­ing, tree-prun­ing, drain-clear­ing, beat­ing, pheas­ant-pluck­ing, lamp­ing, night lamb­ing stints, win­dow clean­ing, mow­ing the cricket pitch, bowl­ing out the op­po­si­tion, deadly darts play­ing and wring­ing the necks of pet chick­ens past their lay­ing days. He’s kind­hearted and hope­less at charg­ing—his red Mit­subishi truck dou­bles as an of­fice and springer spaniel Molly’s ken­nel. De­spite the Poldark­ian im­age, he’s still liv­ing at home with his mum, Peg, who does for the manor, Mrs Aram­inta and nice Mr Clut­ter­buck; she’s a stick­ler for tea at 6pm and ef­fort­lessly sees off hap­less po­ten­tial daugh­ters-in-law.

The lord of the manor

What Sir Henry Fos­sick re­ally longs for is an al­lot­ment in which to grow roses, talk to bees and re­treat from Lady Daphne, his ac­coun­tant, his feck­less god­son, that an­noy­ing lit­tle man from De­fra and the ter­mi­nally tin-rat­tling Minty. They all think he’s a bot­tom­less pit, but the truth is that the gymkhanas, al­fresco op­eras and Con­ser­va­tive Party cheese and wines, among other end­less bun­fights at me­dieval Fos­sick Manor, are use­less for plug­ging the hole through which the dwin­dling Fos­sick for­tune is pour­ing. He’d love to hold a rave—that Anoushka girl to whom he sold The Pig­gery is re­ally rather sexy—but the par­ish coun­cil will never wear it. He’s dread­ing the lo­cals dis­cov­er­ing that Bot­tom Acres could have 50 new houses un­der the vil­lage plan, but it’s all that’s keep­ing the roof on.

The bach­e­lor

Rod­er­ick Clut­ter­buck hasn’t had to cook Sun­day lunch for 12 months, such is his pop­u­lar­ity with the ladies of the par­ish: he’s as con­sis­tently charm­ing to their nu­bile god­daugh­ters as to 91-year-old Dotty Firkin, who’s as deaf as a post, and he al­ways writes a proper thank-you let­ter with a foun­tain pen. Rod­er­ick can be re­lied upon to fill in at the li­brary, where he’s the only one who can reach the top shelf, make up a four at bridge, de­vise the pub quiz and score the cricket; his anx­ious hos­pi­tal-car-run pas­sen­gers will find a com­fort­ing, al­beit dusty, humbug in the glove com­part­ment of his clapped-out Subaru. A wor­ry­ing tight­ness about the mole­skin waist­coat has forced him to take Mont­gomery the labrador on longer con­sti­tu­tion­als; the vil­lage would be star­tled to know that he uses these to de­vise bodice-rip­per nov­els in his head.

The pub­li­can

Ev­ery time the men from the brew­ery turn up at the Fer­ret and Sack, Will Per­ry­man sticks his fin­gers in his ears. He’s not hav­ing any of this gas­tro malarky of cala­mari, flow­ery ton­ics or cab­bage cooked in cream—pub food is cot­tage pie, Stil­ton plough­man’s, ham-and-mus­tard sand­wiches and his wife Daisy’s leg­endary pork crack­ling on Sun­days, washed down with Black Sheep (or a Pinot Gri­gio for the ladies)— and he’s keep­ing sch­tum about the lock-in af­ter skit­tle night last week. The widescreen TV in­stalled for the Grand Na­tional was the thin end of the wedge—he’s still mys­ti­fied as to how old Si­las Frog­well won the sweep­stake with­out stick­ing his pound in in the first place.

The shop­keeper

Dai the Shop is go­ing to see off the Lidl at the garage out on the main road if it’s the last thing he does. He’s in­stalled a Costa cof­fee ma­chine, to the an­noy­ance of Mrs Bunn at the teashop, a deli counter sell­ing that very pleas­ant Rus­sian pop star’s sheep’s milk and he’s or­dered in the Bran­cott Es­tate wine that mid­dle-aged peo­ple seem to be down­ing by the caseload. Reg­u­lars are greeted with their pa­per and the morn­ing head­lines—of­ten an ap­prov­ing ‘About time Mrs May put soand-so in his place’—but foul-weather cus­tomers, who only pa­tro­n­ise the shop when they’re snowed in, will get a har­rumph. He’s about the only per­son not up­set about the post-of­fice clo­sure; the ar­rival of jolly Mrs Stamp and her counter has perked him up—a startlingly rich bari­tone Men of Har­lech em­anates from the store­room, es­pe­cially dur­ing the 6 Na­tions.

The schoolmistress

Young Ja­son Thicket has his hand up to ask why Welling­ton didn’t just nuke Napoleon and have done with it and the fact that some­one trod in a cow­pat on the na­ture ram­ble is prov­ing a dis­trac­tion (‘There’s a funny smell in here, Miss, I feel sick’), but un­flap­pable Leti­tia Chalk is de­ter­mined to in­still flower names, cor­rect punc­tu­a­tion, the kings of Eng­land and man­ners into Year 3. It’s a far cry from the stim­u­lat­ing anal­y­sis of Par­adise Lost at Chel­tenham Ladies’ she’d en­vis­aged in her Gir­ton days, but her ef­fort­less knowl­edge, spe­cial Padding­ton voice, italic hand­writ­ing, pur­ple tights and wire-haired fox ter­rier, Plato, en­trance her small pupils. She can’t know it, but when Mas­ter Thicket be­comes For­eign Sec­re­tary, he will name her as ‘the teacher who in­spired me’.

‘Dai the Shop is go­ing to see off the Lidl at the garage on the main road if it’s the last thing he does’

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