Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Village Shopping

I needed to buy a loaf of bread today, so Tramp and I called at the village shop on the way back from our walk – one that took us through glorious sun-filled woods and fields.
The shop has recently started selling a range of breads supplied by a local bakery, branching out from the previous stock of white sliced, brown sliced and, on a good day, Hovis. And the new breads are a veritable feast for the eyes, ranging through rosemary and sundried tomato ciabattas and paninis, to walnut wholemeals, seeded granaries and dusty white bloomers – all displayed on rough wooden shelves covered in gingham-checked paper.
But it’s not just the dedicated bakery section that’s undergone the rustic revamp – if that’s not a contradiction in terms. June and George, who own and run the shop, have recently gone for the whole Mary Portas ‘country shopping’ experience – it’s not quite as ‘bleached pine’ as the new ‘farm shops’ that are springing up everywhere, but it’s getting that way. So a delicatessen counter now runs along one side of the shop, serving sliced meats and cheeses, along with mysterious marinating delicacies featuring goats cheese and various oils. Sandwiches and rolls can now be made to order from this counter. Meanwhile, home-baked -looking cakes and luxury pates and olives, oils, jams (sorry: conserves) and continental-looking thin biscuits, are all attractively presented in select groupings on little tables to rummage through around the rest of the shop. Fake straw and baskets feature a lot. The effect is not one of a bring-and-buy stall at a fete, I hasn’t to add; but a tasteful discovery experience.
Apparently there was a touch of ‘panic buying’ at our village shop when the snow first fell and people were reluctant to use their four-wheel-drive vehicles in the inclement weather. The artistically arranged displays were forgotten for a while and we were back to normal as far as layout was concerned, as June and George couldn’t keep up with demand. I couldn’t help laughing when I mentioned this panic shopping to my neighbour, Lawrence, as he cleared a track down his drive for his bins.
‘I can’t understand why people have to buy so much just as soon as the weather turns,’ he said. ‘I don’t panic-buy. I just bought extra bread today, and a couple of spare pints of milk, in case the milkman can’t get through. That’s all.’
June’s father was enlisted to help with the rush at the time.
‘I expect you’ve found things you didn’t know you had,’ I joked with him, as I looked round at the shelves almost stripped bare of goods.
‘Don’t know what we’ll do if we don’t get a veg. delivery this week, though,’ he glowered pessimistically, and characteristically, despite the evidence before us of a remarkable set of monthly turnover figures building up.
At this time of year, though, the main rush is after school, when there is almost gridlock in the village centre from 4x4s parked up, while mothers take their offspring into the shop for treats, and maybe a bottle of wine for themselves for later, as they consider the prospect of tackling Miss Craig’s Maths homework.
Anyone who knows the workings of the shop will be aware of how slow it can be to get served at this time of day, as the children try to decide on their sweets, and the hubbub grows as mothers are diverted into chatting. Certainly no-one would attempt to order from the delicatessen section any ham that needs to be sliced, or cheese that needs to be unwrapped, unless one has time on one’s hands. An egg salad roll is out of the question.
But people don’t visit the village shop only for what they can buy. In amongst the throngs of mothers and children there is always a Mrs Purton, or someone like my friend Marianne – people who live alone and who occasionally come into the shop for something other than a painstakingly-made cheese panini or a bottle of balsamic vinegar, and which you can’t arrange in a display or account for in turnover figures. I’m sure though, I don’t have to tell you what that something is.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Signs of Spring

Despite the warmer temperatures, and less bite to the wind, I’m not sure anyone yet truly believes that Spring has secured a firm foothold – but the signs are there.

As Tramp and I slid along the muddy footpaths through the woods off the lane on our walk today, I took heart that Spring might be upon us, though, since the anemones were well and truly in command of their ground. Their white flower heads nodded confidently above the thickening bluebell leaves, while I saw primroses were but scattered indiscriminately among it all, wherever they could find a space. With such a blanket of wild flowers and foliage, the woodland floor certainly looks at its tidiest at this time of year, I thought.

In the lane itself, buds were about to burst in the hedgerows, and some had sneaked open already. Birds flitted everywhere, wearing themselves out with nest building, and all the while setting up a cacophony of song to mingle with the sound of distant lawn mowers and DIY-Jim’s electric sander. I made a mental note to put out more wild birdseed when I got home – I find this is enough to sustain the feathered visitors to my garden, rather than the extensive smorgasbord of nuts, seeds and fruits available in garden centres now, and all manner of specialised containers to hold them.

Because of the birds nesting, all woodland clearing work has been suspended, and I had heard dreadlock-James has moved on, proving that his horsebox home did have an engine in it after all. Similarly, someone announced on the facebook page that they had spotted a moorhen’s nest under construction on the village pond, so the annual pond-clearing work scheduled for last weekend was postponed. It also meant we were deprived of the sight of lead volunteer, Old Norm, striving to tackle overgrown reeds, leaf litter and fallen branches, while stirring-up abandoned pet goldfish and terrapins in his armpit-high waders.

Tramp and I walked on to the fields beyond the stream, where a smattering of ‘hobby sheep’ moved away from the fence alongside the footpath. Their lambs are growing fast; still long-legged, long-tailed, and curious, but now sure-footed as they came to greet us, ignoring the bleated warnings of their mothers.

We skirted around behind Miss Purton’s cottage, with Charles, her cat, in his usual position on the window sill. As we then walked back into the centre of the village, I finally encountered the confirmation I sought that Spring is really upon us, and from what will be the subject of many a conversation in the village pub over coming weeks and months: along the roadside not one, but a crop of three, new, ‘Property For Sale’ signs had sprouted from posts rising from the ground.

Monday, 8 April 2013


People in our village tend to be of two distinct types: the joiners-in and those who stand aside. I choose my words carefully, here, since members of the ‘standing aside’ group are not, as is often claimed, necessarily apathetic. On the contrary, very often they are among the most vociferous in favour of village life. They just don’t actually do anything to promote it or support it, except live here and talk about it. The joiners-in, on the other hand, do just that. They join every committee that’s going, start up any that aren’t, and support the activities of any others they’ve missed.
While I try to do my fair share of committee work, I can’t profess to be the most dedicated joiner-in. That dubious honour must go to Janet and Brian, aka ‘Mr and Mrs Committee’. Between them they chair various Parish Council committees, along with being Brown Owl and Akela (respectively). They both belong to the Church Hall committee, where Brian is treasurer. They each head up the village pond committee and the gardening club committee, while participating actively as members of the cricket club committee (in summer) and the football club committee (in winter). In their spare time they throw in a spot of handbell ringing.
I joined the gardening club myself when I moved to the village. They are dog friendly, and so Tramp and I trot along to each meeting in the Church Hall on the first Thursday of every month, at 7.30 pm sharp. Speakers are advised not to dim the lights too far during their slide shows, or they will face strong competition from snoring from the audience. The talks are well attended on the whole – especially on the tried and tested topics of pests and diseases in the garden, or pruning of any kind. None of us, it seems, has succeeded in conquering the demands of either.
Janet times her announcements for just before the inevitable raffle, for no-one leaves until it is drawn. When it comes time for the raffle, you could cut the tension in the room with a sharp spade, with prizes like packets of seeds, donated tomato plants or a box of Milk Tray up for grabs. You have to buy five tickets at a time, as each strip of five is laminated for re-use next time, saving costs of course. Woe betide anyone who fails to return their strips at the end of the evening – as it is, we are missing several runs of numbers from the draw.
When Janet took to the floor last Thursday, clutching her handwritten list of announcements, I could see she was more than usually determined in what she had to say. Brian moved to stand beside her. Even Tramp stood up and gave a little wag of his tail, by way of encouragement.
Janet ran through the arrangements for the forthcoming Spring show, emphasising that entries for all classes had to be submitted by 12.35 p.m. as judging would commence at 12.40. She explained in vivid detail the difference between a daffodil and a narcissus, and gave us the acceptable dimensions for the round bowl and the tall vase arrangements, respectively.
All this was well and good. But when it came to the final announcement about the regular, annual fundraiser for the club, reading between the lines I could see Janet and the committee had not finished up fully in accord at their last meeting.
Every year, the club holds a summer BBQ, and this year is to be no exception. Club members usually pitch in with providing sausages and home-made burgers, along with salads, coleslaw, jellies and trifles. They are dished up, school dinner fashion, by the committee behind long trestle tables, as everyone passes along the line. We all bring along our own drink. Janet and Brian organise quizzes and games to while away the afternoon, many of which former cubs and brownies have played before. But, given fine weather, it is a friendly, sociable event and usually well attended.
But there has been an influx of new joiners-in to the committee this year. They are hell-bent on making this a village-wide event, and on raising real money for the club through ticket sales and takings from a cash bar. Through visibly clenched teeth, Janet announced that “the committee had decided” we are to have a hog roast, provided at cost by a local caterer known to one of the new committee members. There will be no quizzes or obstacle races; instead a live band will play throughout the afternoon and evening.
“It could be a rather loud affair,” she added, her sole diversion from the party line.
“Will there still be a raffle?” someone asked, behind me.
“Yes,” Janet said, “but I expect that will change, as well”.
“I suppose more books will need laminating”, said the voice behind me, in all seriousness.