Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Village

The sun beat down warmly on to the dusty road, the lazy, soporific atmosphere enhanced by the humming of bees foraging amongst the clover and broom for nectar. A grasshopper threw up little dustpuffs in his attempt to reach the safety of the grassy bank, away from the sharp beak of a hungry starling who wanted him for her dinner.

On the village pond, two ducks and their hatchlings were cooling themselves in the clear water, mother duck's instructions to her babies clear through the quiet afternoon.

`The Old Smithy' hadn't been one for about two hundred years, but that didn't stop the present owners using the name for the inn and public house it had become since. Even the old anvil remained, used mainly as a footrest, standing as it did in the fire grate in `The Old Anvil' bar.

All in all, it was a quaint village of great charm, the sort of village used for greetings-cards or postcards. The view of it's magnificent via-ducted railway bridge over the valley, was probably one of the best known views in England, although not many people could have said exactly where it was. Most people overshot Summerseat, aiming rather for the larger towns of Frome and Dutton. For this, the indigenous population of one hundred and thirty two souls (plus ducks, cows and assorted dogs and horses) were eternally grateful.

For over four hundred years, Summerseat had, metaphorically speaking, kept its head down and by doing so, kept out of the notice of the world and its ills. Even the weather seemed different in Summerseat, Winters being cold and snowy, made cosy with real fires and mulled wine, Springs being mild and wet, filling the world with crocus and daffodils, lambs and chickens, Autumns being amber and gold woodland walks, redolent of woodsmoke and winemaking.

But it was the summers that were the most amazing in Summerseat, almost as one imagined that God ordained them to be. Golden, hot, permeated with the scent of the sun upon the good brown earth and silver rivers, full of the insect life that created more life, the humming of honeybees upon buddleia and hollyhock, foxglove and clover. Full of the tinkling sound of crystal waters over smooth stones on the riverbed punctuated by the splash of a kingfisher after a silver dart of a fish.

They didn't encourage strangers in Summerseat. Occasionally an `outer' or family of them would come. They didn't stay long.

They found life difficult away from civilization with its shops, clubs, gyms and businesses. Most villagers were more or less self-sufficient, bartering what they had too much of for what they needed, selling any excess at the market in Dutton, doing jobs for one another to be paid in kind. They rubbed along well enough without the twentieth century and didn’t even boast a supermarket, although Geoffrey and Jane Dunnett at the pub kept a small supply of `luxury' goods.

The only shop was a kind of general store cum Post-Office, run, if indeed `run' is the correct word, by Arthur and Vera Tetlow. Vera was a splendiferous cook and her bakery items were sought after, even in a `do-it-yourself- village like this one. Arthur's market-garden was legendary and he kept the village supplied with herbs for both cooking and home-medicine. Indeed, he was something of an herbalist, making decoctions and unguents for villagers and animals alike. Occasionally, they were asked to mail a letter or parcel and once a week they doled out the pensions and cashed giros, after which the Post Office went to sleep again until the next week.

All in all, Summerseat was peaceful, tranquil, picturesque and mind-crushingly boring.


"We can't have missed the turning, surely?" Angie Morris scrutinised the page in the roadmap with a magnifying glass.

"It's got to be around here somewhere, but I'm blowed If I can find it," Angie's husband Jim felt like he had spent all day driving up and down this stretch of country road, "mind you, two years is a long time. I suppose the landmarks can change in that time."

"Well if we can't find it and we've been there, the removals men'll have some fun!" Angie laughed.

"It'll be okay. I'll fax them a detailed map once we're there, provided the phone company haven't screwed up."

"It's so remote," Angie considered. " `Summerseat'. It sounds as idyllic as it looks. Or should I say `looked'. It's a long while since we've been. Anything could have happened since Aunt Clarisse died. There could be a nightclub in the square or they could have turned the pond into a jacuzzi by now!"

Jim grinned at the mental picture of Aunt Clarisse in the village pond enjoying a communal jacuzzi with Fred Dover the drover, Fred still wearing his dirty smock and straw hat.

"Here it is! We must have passed that twice!" Angie sat up, golden curls bobbing. "How did we miss that?"

Jim shrugged. "Map fatigue I suppose. I'm glad the kids aren't with us. They'd've been at it hammer and tong by now."

"Don't even want to think about it!" Angie threw up her hands in mock-horror and shook her head.

The approach to Summerseat was by an obscure winding lane, which to the uninitiated, looked like a farm track. It looked like a farm track to the initiated too and felt even more like one with the pits and furrows that threw a vehicle all over the place, jolting the suspension of any car and any passenger mad enough to ride down it.

The greenery was thick and uncompromising and Jim fervently hoped they would meet nothing coming the other way, for there was nowhere to pass. The hedgerow was lushly green and alive with wildlife. All along the foot of it summer wildflowers and bulbs fell over each other to grow for the sun. Pink campion and herb Robert vyed for space with borage and digitalis, whilst the scented greenish flowers of wild clematis scrambled over the thorny thickets.

"Can't be far now Ange." Jim had noticed the pallor of his wife's complexion. Her silence added to the impression of suppressed projectile vomiting. This road surface would be enough to make an old mariner seasick!

The greenery started to thin out a little and the track widened a little, not much but enough to make Jim relax a little.

"You'd think someone would make that a bit easier. No wonder the village doesn't get many visitors."

Angie was silent, which spoke volumes to her concerned husband, who was stating to feel queasy himself.

Just when Angie could take no more, the village came into sight. Not gradually, cottage by cottage. Instantly. Now you see it, now you don't, but the reverse.

"Wow!" Jim exclaimed. "It hasn't changed at all! In fact I'd swear it's identical in every detail to when I was a nipper and stayed with Aunt Clarisse. It's quite breathtaking."

Angie raised her eyebrows, used to her husband's enthusiasms - and his exaggerations. "I'm sure it can't be IDENTICAL, after all this time Jim, but you're right, it hasn't changed much from when we were last here." Privately Angie was suitably impressed. It was such a pretty place to bring up the kids, away from the aggression and bullying of that horrible school they'd been at and the peace would do Jim good too.

Aunt Clarisse had passed away over two years previously, but she had died intestate, and although Jim had been her closest relative in all senses of the word, his claim on her estate had been contested and it had all become a long, drawn out bore.

The final decision, in Jim's favour, could not have come at a better time. They had had a bad few years one way and another.

Angie's ex-husband Carl had re-surfaced and was giving her several different kinds of grief, the kids were having increasingly difficult times at the school they were in; She and Jim had tried to have them moved to another school, but there had been no room and Angie wasn't convinced it would have been much better anyway and to cap it all, Jim had been made redundant from his job.

Over the months, the bills had piled up and Jim's small redundancy award had dwindled. They were on the verge of repossession when the news came. "Good old Aunt Clarisse," Jim had heaved a huge sigh of relief as he stood in the hallway with the letter from the solicitor in his hand, "They've found a will! She did leave one after all!"

They had just packed belongings they considered to be essential, left the rest in the house that now belonged to the building society and left.

Jim was having private thoughts of his own. Perhaps in a serene and quiet place like this, Angie could learn to relax and drop her defences. Perhaps she could conceive a child of his here. He loved her two like they were his own, but one of their own would be nice too.

Aunt Clarisse's cottage, was on the other side of the village. It was one of the original cottages that were built before there was a village. As they approached the stone built dwelling, Jim felt an almost imperceptible pressure on his cheek, like that of papery lips brushing a kiss onto a child's face.

"Thanks Aunt Clarisse," he said to himself.

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