Monday, 11 March 2013

Names and Numbers

 Our village woke this morning to a white surprise of snow, and there have been showers and flurries throughout the day as the forecast arctic blast has taken hold.

Our trusty milkman, Martin, had visited before breakfast, though. He had left a form for a ‘milkman of the year’ nomination under the pint on the step, and I am tempted to put him forward for it. He has definitely delivered above and beyond the call of duty this winter on his round; I don’t think he’s missed a pint, even when it meant sliding his milk float across roads of sheet ice in sub-zero temperatures.

But today, the snow hasn’t really settled on the roads or pavements. Rather, when I ventured out with Tramp for our walk, I realised that it was probably the biting, arctic wind that has kept everyone indoors. Even Tramp gulped and choked a couple of times, as he inadvertently swallowed the chill air.

As we turned up the lane, a car pulled up in front of me. The driver wound down his window and called, ‘Can you tell me where 'The Old Schoolhouse’ is, please?’

          ‘Ah,’ I said, ‘you need to turn around. It’s back past the Church Hall, on the left. Keep the Pub on your right, and the Church on your left, and you won’t miss it.’

          I couldn’t help but think about this conversation, as I carried on up The Lane, battling through the cold. For it occurred to me that in our village, no-one goes by street names to locate a property. We all go by house names, instead. If someone asks you where so-and-so lives, you might direct them by saying, ‘They live in Old Elm Cottage; past The Hollies… next door to Pond House…’

          The exception to this is the cluster of ‘affordable housing’ known collectively as ‘The Meadows’ where houses are arranged along a grid of named streets, terraces and closes. The development was constructed just after the War, originally as Council houses, but now they are mostly privately owned as a result of the ‘right to buy’ scheme brought in some years ago. Maybe it serves as a social comment of the time, but The Meadows is set at a discreet distance from the centre, on the outer fringes of the village past the shop, and the houses are numbered rather than named.

          But it’s not just a matter of identifying houses by their names, but a matter of using the house names to identify the people that inhabit them -- again with the exception of The Meadows. And so, if a newcomer ventures into the pub, after a respectable number of visits cloaked in silence, they might be asked, ‘Where do you live?’ – not ‘What do you do for a living?’ or, ‘Where do you come from?’ And when they say ‘New Cottage’ (which isn’t), everyone will reply as one, ‘Oh – Carol and Fred’s house!’

Similarly, in the pub the other night, I overheard Peg-toothed Jill talking about Jim, and the noise of his incessant hammering that day as he worked on yet another modification to Corner Cottage. ‘You know,’ she explained to young Sally, ‘he lives in Mary’s old house.’

For we will always think of Corner House as Mary’s, long after Jim has finished his home improvements (but which show no sign of abating for the foreseeable future), and even after he has died, or left the property in corporal form. In this way, the connections between previous owners of a property preserve its history, and perhaps the history of the village.

Of course, like any delivery driver who doesn’t know the area, any new milkman taking on this village as their round surely has their work cut out marrying up orders to such a discrete address system. As Tramp and I rounded the pond and headed for the warmth of home, this seemed like another commendable reason for nominating Martin for the award – such a facility of mind must put him head and shoulders above the rest.


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