Thursday, 21 July 2011

At what point are you no longer a newcomer?

   How long do you have to live in a village before you are no longer considered 'new' to the village?  This is a question I've been asking myself on and off over the last fifteen years, and then again this week.

    With the onset of summer holidays, even though the schools haven't all broken up yet, my usual social group has become a bit of a patchwork, scattered across the world.  Verity has gone to the south of France for a couple of months, doubtless hoping to pick up some tips (or attractive young men) in Nice or Monaco.  Delyth, on the other hand, is off to the Pembroke coast tomorrow, trying to beat the rush of Saturday's holiday season.  Annie and her family have tried to take advantage of pre-holiday prices to visit whichever version of Disney is in Florida, whereas Jenny has gone orangutan spotting in Borneo.  It all makes my trips within Europe seem quite tame, but there's always the next holiday.  Meanwhile, I've spent a few days with Celeste, buying up the supplies/equipment she needs for a job at a campsite in Spain.  She doesn't speak Spanish, but doesn't seem to see that as an obstacle.

   "Most of the people staying there will be Brits, Mum," she assured me.  "And loads of the locals speak English anyway."

   I was not particularly reassured, but perhaps she'll speak Spanish by the end of it.  But she has headed off now and the OH has told me not to worry because he's given her some sort of emergency cash card.  I do not find that much consolation but I suppose if she feels confident enough to have a go at the job, and convinced the employers too, then I must have brought her up well in some respect.

   What does all this have to do with being a newcomer, you are probably wondering.  As I drove back into the village on Tuesday after taking Celeste to the airport for an insanely early flight, I had to make my way past two different coaches.  One was parked outside the school, loading up children for some sort of trip, minimal work involved to judge by the level of excitement.  A little further along the road, by the regular bus-stop, there was another coach, loading up members of the Residents' Group.  And herein lies the source of my wondering.  Membership of the Residents' Group is by invitation only and there are other membership criteria.  Mostly, you have to lived in the village for at least twenty years, preferably from birth.  (It's probably easier to get into Burke's Peerage.  At least then you only have to marry the right person.)

   When we first moved here, I had no problem explaining to the people behind counters in the various shops, "Oh, I'm new here, we've just moved in."  I had no problem, I should say, for the first month.  But once I'd seen another removal van unloading someone else's worldly goods into their new domain, I no longer felt new.  I now knew more about the village than someone else who lived here.  But still answers were given with the phrase, "But of course, you wouldn't know, you're new here."

   Once through a year, I thought perhaps the refrain would cease.  I had seen the pattern of village life throughout an entire calendar year.  Easter egg hunt, village fete, bonfire night, carol service.  It was no longer new to me, so I would no longer be new.  But gradually I came to realise that for those who were born here, around the time I was being born elsewhere, I would always be new.  And this is most definitely the case for members of the Residents' Group.  They have established their credentials publicly and until you join the group, you are a newcomer.  Or, possibly worse, an incomer, new *and* interfering.

   I only have five years to go before I will be invited to join the group (unless they change the criteria!).  I don't think they do that much exciting; there's some sort of discount at one of the pubs, they have designated seats on various village committees, and periodically they arrange trips out, to Ascot or the theatre.  But of course, I wouldn't know all the details.  I'm new here.

Monday, 11 July 2011


Chloe dropped in quite early this morning, not long after the OH had headed to the office.  I’ve not seen her for a while – she found some additional paying customers and she knows I’m never going to become one of them.  Anyway, I was just loading up the breakfast things into the dishwasher when I heard a knock and halloo at the back door.
“Woke up early, thought I’d drop in on you, see how you are,” she beamed at me.  “Come on, sun’s shining, let’s go for a walk!”
The sun was indeed shining and although we were only walking – something that Chloe calls ‘power-walking’ so a bit faster than comfortable – I soon felt quite warm.  A couple of runners jogged past us as we headed out of the village and down to the bypass and I certainly didn’t envy them in the early morning summer that we experienced today.  After we’d done a short stretch of the bypass, where the pavement is marked out for cyclists and pedestrians but the council’s gardening department hasn’t bothered trimming the hedges and sweeping up the leaves so that the pedestrians are forced onto the cyclists’ path, we headed back.  Chloe did, after all, have somewhere else to be.
“By the way,” she said, after an idle chat about what George and Celeste are up to (on my part) and the complete unfairness of the penalty shoot-out when it came to England’s women’s football (Chloe’s contribution), “I thought I ought to let you know that I’ve signed you up for the Race for Life.  The info pack should come in the post in a couple of days.”
“You’ve done what?”  Racing is not something I ever get involved in, watching (cars, oh the tedium of the TV this weekend) or participating.  At school, I perfected a sprained ankle every summer term so that I was unfortunately unable to participate in house athletics.
“It’s all right, you don’t have to run, in fact quite a lot of people walk.”  She beamed at me as we reached my front door.  “Though a bit of jogging probably wouldn’t go amiss.  You’ll be fine – it’s only five kilometres.  Anyway, can I quickly use your loo before I go?  My next customer is a sweety but cleanliness is something that happens to other people’s houses as far as he’s concerned.”
She shot into the downstairs loo before I could really complain.  I suppose walking five kilometres probably isn’t that far, though I draw the line at jogging. 
However, I digress.  I know what you really want to know about is the Ball.
Initially, it was jolly good fun.  The food was good, the band was good (they’re called The Groove Company, here’s their website and the company was good, once everyone on our table had arrived – there had been some confusion over the start time of the event and even the OH thought it started later than it did because he found it on Facebook and was surprised when his friend Alan phoned to ask where we were.  There were some very glamorous dresses and the shoes had to be seen to be believed!  The height of some of those heels! I tried to take some photos because I knew that you wouldn’t believe me, plus I’m rubbish at estimating distances, whether it’s between stationary vehicles when the OH is trying to park or the height of a heel.

My apologies for the blurry photos, but of course there was dancing; in addition to which, of course, my photographic skills aren’t anything I’d really want to write to anyone about.  As you can see, there were two ladies in particular who were wearing similar shoes and even similar dresses, and I was a little concerned that we were going to get more fireworks than the scheduled ones outside, but in fact they thought it was very funny and after a fair amount of alcohol, could be seen with their arms draped around each other’s shoulders, even slow dancing together at one point.  However, it was the alcohol that was their undoing.  Someone slopped a drink slightly, someone else slipped slightly, and one of our stilettoed ladies went careering down to the floor and through another couple, her feet leading the way.  The band tailed off to a somewhat disharmonious halt and all that could be heard was ‘Ow! My fucking ankle! Ow! Fuck!’  And more along those lines.  If Colin Firth can do it, I suppose an injured lady can.
On closer inspection, I could understand her need to swear.  I read recently about a study that has found humans cope better with pain if they swear.  I don’t think the experimenters were hitting their subjects on the thumb with a hammer to gauge their reactions, but the results suggested that a good long section of blue language can help defuse the throbbing if such a thing happened.  And Hilda’s ankle was very definitely throbbing.  Already, it was swollen and I’m pretty certain that her foot was at the wrong angle when compared with her leg.  A couple of people had some medical training and someone else had common sense training, so while the latter phoned for an ambulance, the others raided the bar’s supply of ice in order to apply some sort of cold compress.  The band tried to carry on playing but it was difficult for any dancing to continue as long as Hilda was still sprawled across the middle of the dance floor, so they gave up and the backing-track that had been on during dinner was turned back on.  Even once the ambulance had been, some half an hour later, and removed Hilda and her partner, the mood had gone and no-one really felt like dancing. 
So remind me, next time I’m invited to anything like a ball, that I really don’t want to wear stiletto heels.  I really really don’t.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Charity Begins at Home

There’s some sort of fundraiser this evening in the village, which has been entitled a Ball.  I’m not sure quite how like a ball it will be and I certainly won’t be wearing a ballgown, but the OH has splashed out on some tickets and we’re joining a table that seems to be mainly people he’s met at pub-quizzes or from the local am-dram group.  Still, it should be fun as there will be live music and dancing so the entertainment value could be quite high.  I will post an entry about it if anything interesting happens.  And possibly even if nothing interesting happens, you’ll have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, in amongst all the showers and potential flash-floods, life goes on here in our sleepy village.  Nibbled at the edges, sometimes, by the goats belonging to a smallholder on the edge of the village, that escaped from their yard and were caught just up the road from our house, demolishing Sylvia’s roses and completely unfazed by her dogs barking at them.  I went out later, down to Joe’s house to check the post for him – he’s gone on some sort of research trip while the decorators are in as he can’t stand the smell of paint, and has asked me to stop the post from piling up too badly – and I don’t think there’s a single front garden that the goats didn’t sample.  Poor Colbert was very embarrassed and muttered something about the pigs having charged the gate when Sylvia returned them, but since it was the goats that were out rather than the pigs, I don’t quite see how that can be relevant.  It’s given Sylvia good mileage at the pub, anyway.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Keeping it in the Family

Fiona’s been keeping a low profile since my last entry; I’ve seen her around the village occasionally but she usually crosses the road to avoid having to pass me on the pavement, giving me one of those very pointed looks that suggests she’s planning some sort of revenge, she just hasn’t decided on it yet.  All of which is very tedious, but like terrorists, if I let even unspoken threats from her influence my life in any way, then she’s won.  And I really don’t like the idea of her winning! 
So I’ve carried on pretty much as usual, trying to tackle the jungle that is the back garden in which the foxgloves and the dandelions are winning.  I don’t mind foxgloves, but the dandelions really annoy me.  Particularly since, even though the OH had a go at mowing them recently, we’ve just spent two weeks in Florence (hence the hiatus here, Florence is *not* a small village!), so the weeds seem to be winning.    Even Verity commented and at the moment, that’s saying something.  She dropped in on Saturday to hand over a couple of parcels that had arrived while we were away (birthday presents for George, when I get round to wrapping them) and after sipping morosely at a coffee that she’d forgotten to add sweeteners to, she looked around and said, “Your lawn’s looking a bit peaky.”  There’s currently more moss and dandelion than grass, so calling it a lawn is overstating the case considerably, but she’s right.  Consequently, this morning I phoned one of those companies that look after lawns, you know, visit four times a year to add fertiliser or something, and we’ll see what they can do.
We’d been invited for dinner at Paul and Celia’s on Saturday evening, which was very pleasant and a chance to meet some other people.  There were ten of us altogether, a couple of familiar faces from the village, but mostly not, and it was a full-blown six course meal if you include the cheese and port at the end, and the subsequent coffee and liqueurs.  Celia appeared to have got someone in to help with the preparation and then with serving the drinks and so on, and I said at one point that I thought for a teenager, it probably paid better than babysitting.
“Oh, I’m not paying her,” Celia replied.  “That’s my daughter, Kathryn.  She’s doing a degree in hotel management or some such, so it’s good practice for her.”
That may be true, but I’m sure the poor girl would prefer the money.  And I doubt her mum can write a reference for her!