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.