Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Gunfight at the OK Corral or Another Afternoon in the Village Pub

The village had once been a collection of large farms, the villagers mostly farm labourers or servants in the "Big" houses. There had once been two pubs, two shops, two tea-rooms, a Post Office, and a forge. By the time we came to live there all the working farms were turned over to grazing land for horses, it only had one shop, a post office (amalgamated with the one remaining shop), the forge, one pub and no tea-rooms (we actually converted the old bakery at the side of the shop to become the new tearoom). The village was in the London Green Belt and a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty so no development could take place, all very well for the people who wanted to preserve middle-England, keep the price of their property high, but the employment of youngsters with no new businesses? The villagers mostly commuted elsewhere to work and the youngsters moved out taking the next generation with them.

One of the few employers in the village was Wainey - he ran his own firm of Landscape Gardeners. It was here that most of the village lads turned to when they left school and where our own son trudged off to during the long summer vacations when he was at university. The boys laboured on big new developments in nearby towns, mowed lawns, cut back footpaths for the Council, strimmed hedges and planted flower beds. They would all meet at Waineys barn around 7 a.m. then be driven off to the various locations to put in a days work, before being driven home again. On the way home they were all dropped off at the village pub, here they had a couple of drinks and then tired from a day outdoors and a couple of beers they wandered home. My son claims it was the best job he ever had! He came home one day proudly announcing that at last he was a man - tentatively I asked what that meant ... "It means that like workmen the world over I leered at women (any women) as the truck we were all sitting in hurtled past them." I'm not sure that pride is actually what I felt as I heard these words.

One Saturday afternoon Wainey was driving past the pub in his truck and he spotted a couple of the lads who worked for him hanging around the entrance; he pulled over to pass the time of day - but he didn't pull over far enough and the car behind him was forced to stop - the horn was tooted. Wainey got out of his truck slowly, he was a brawny, weather-beaten individual, who imagined himself to be much taller than he actually was - hours of sitting on his drive along mower meant he always walked a little as if he was John Wayne. He swaggered over to the car that had tooted, leaning on the bonnet, he asked (a little bluntly) what the problem was. Well the problem was no-one could pass him. Wainey grinned, apologised but as he turned to go back to his truck a sudden urge to kick the car crept over him ...

... the driver sat passively, he was dressed in his best bib and tucker having just left the Church, the wedding of his brother in fact. He said nothing, waited for Wainey to move then drove quietly to the wedding reception.

Some hours later Wainey was sitting at the bar of the pub, pint in hand, discussing racing tips a bar stool crashed over his head. And that was the start of the Great Fight - between the Landscape Garden Boys and the Boys From The Wedding Reception (nobody asked but it must have been an Irish Wedding). Eye-witnesses describe it as being like a scene from Bonanza; participants re-counted their parts in the brawl with pride - it seems the local lads came off best, but only just. The funny thing was that Richard (the well-hard man child I wrote about earlier) sadly missed the whole thing - well he would have wouldn't he? Hiding behind the hedge across the road, invisible to those falling around inside the pub - but not to those sitting in the Beer Garden outside.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Village Day

The Saturday morning of the Flower Show always dawned bright and clear, the "perfect weather" pray had been answered, but then the sun always shines on the righteous doesn't it?

Since the February addition of the Parish Magazine, when the Flower Show Schedule first appeared, this day had been eagerly anticipated, whether you were entering the competitions, organising the event or just out for a stroll around the field, a tasty cream tea and a try at hurling a wet sponge at the Rector this was the day village celebrated being a village - and of course tickets for the evening Hamper-Hop had sold out weeks beforehand.

On Tuesday morning the grass in the field had been cut and the horses that normally grazed in it moved to another one for that week.

On Wednesday last minute orders placed at the village shop for anything needed on the day that had previously been overlooked (heaven forbid).

On Thursday afternoon the Marquee tent company would arrive to erect it (oh yes every year we had that joke too!) ... the usual argument (did I say argument - oh perish the thought), the usual good-natured discussion about whether or not to rent a dance floor with the tent had taken place and the proceeds from the Village Quiz night had been set aside especially for it.

First thing Friday morning the Committee would be out in full force,
"Peter have you checked that Mr. J knows its this weekend he needs to bring the extra tables down from Teds barn?"
"Yvonne have you got all the hessian sacking?"
"Who did we ask to put up the bunting?"
"Already done."
"Oh no - have we checked there are enough footballs for the Parish Councils stall?"
"Have the National Trust arrived yet?"

The good ladies of the WI were out in full force, measuring and laying out the positions for tomorrows floral displays; the Parish Council were there to check that all the games they would be supervising had all the pieces, the Festival Committee were all at their different posts directing the delivery of straw bales (for the dogs races), checking the generators and the loud speaker systems. By the end of the afternoon the field was transformed - coloured tents erected around the Marquee, dozens of smaller commercial stalls set up and a general buzz of excitement everywhere.

And then the day dawned ...

From 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. the village was a hive of activity all the entrants for the show were busy in the Marquee laying out their wares, a quick glance at other entries as we put the finishing touches to our own displays. The commercial stall holders started arriving to arrange their goods in eye-catching arrangements. At 10 a.m. the Marquee was emptied and the judges ceremoniously led in ...
The Flower Show officially kicked off at mid-day - the flaps of the Marquee were fastened back and the villagers swooped in to check the results, to admire the floral displays, the paintings, the poems, the longest beans, the heaviest pumpkins, the plumpest tomatoes, the tastiest jams, the lightest sponge cakes, the most perfect loaves of bread, the most delicate embroidery, the photographs ... the childrens races took place, ice-creams were bought, cream teas consumed, bargains struck at the second-hand book stall, footballs kicked, dogs hurdled over bales of hay, or walked politely at their owners sides in the "Dog who looked most like its owner" competition. Once our very own Border Collie took second prize in the obedience competition - darn that attractive little poodle who distracted him with her fluttering eyelashes ... Some years we had challenged our neighbouring villages to a Tug-o-War - these battles were preformed in the heat of the afternoon, the partisan crowd cheering on their own team - good natured banter floated through the air, even though our rivals obviously had ringers in. Sometimes Marching Bands played, sometimes Morris Dancers preformed, always something special to keep the crowds interested.

At about 4 o'clock prize giving took place ... cries of "fixed" as the Rectors wife took a first in the hanging baskets, photos taken of the longest bean and its grower, self-congratulatory speeches made and then the auctioning off of all the vegetable entries. Then a pleasant sun-burnt walk home whilst the Festival Committee rushed around transforming the Marquee to a Dance Hall.

The Pig-on-a-Spit man arrived with two fatted specimens, the Band began tuning up and then the real party began ... the Hamper Hop ...

Everyone had pre-arranged which tables they would be sitting at, for weeks who would bring which salad had been discussed, now the all important task of eating, drinking and dancing began. In all our years there never once did we see any altercation at these parties, old grievances were buried (just for the evening) as the village joined together to celebrate, there was always plenty of time the next morning when the "clear up" teams arrived, for grudges to re-surface.