Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Heat of the summer sun

Like the rest of the country, our village has been enjoying the long, hot summer days, with temperatures soaring consistently higher and higher to break all known records. Perhaps ‘sweltering’ is a better word for it, as far as humans are concerned; or maybe it depends whether you can relax and soak up the sun, or whether you have to work under its relentless glare.

Animals perhaps have to ‘endure’ rather than ‘enjoy’ the extremes of weather; and I’m afraid owners are often blissfully unaware of their suffering. I have cut back some of Tramp’s fur to help keep him cooler (but wouldn’t last any employment as a hairdresser). I didn’t have him shorn to expose his skin, as I have seen with other dogs, even those professionally groomed -- I would worry he would be burned by the sun.

Ignorance is one thing; uncaring cruelty another. A white Shetland pony is kept in a dusty paddock near the Old School House. I say ‘kept’ when really it has been abandoned there, forgotten by the little girl who, I suspect, is no longer gripped by ‘My little pony’’, nor any longer a victim of the marketing around it. Or maybe she just grew. When Tramp and I past it on our walk yesterday, the pony trotted across to greet us, as usual, swishing its tail to rid itself of flies and tossing its dirty, unkempt mane from its eyes.

As I stroked its nose and chatted to the pony, while Tramp sniffed around the grass verge, a large tractor and trailer lumbered up and drew to a rattling halt alongside us. I saw Young Sally was driving, with almost her whole upper body stretched to span the enormous black steering wheel, arms spread to their limit across the diameter. She had thundered through the village several times a day over the last week, and I knew she had some summer work helping to bring in the hay. She would wave joyously as she sailed by, high off the ground above our heads. She was in her element.

As she climbed down from the cab and said ‘hello,’ I saw Sally was carrying two large bottles of water. These she proceeded to empty into a plastic bucket on the ground just inside the gate to the paddock.

          ‘There’s no shade here for this little horse,’ she said, ‘and no-one’s bringing it water - even in this heat!’

          ‘Horses need a lot of water, don’t they?’ I don’t know a great deal about horses, and I'm not that keen on them.

          ‘They certainly do. A regular-sized horse can drink 10 litres a day. And this little thing has been drinking nearly that much every day this last week.’

          ‘But you shouldn’t have to bring it water. Why aren’t its owners looking after it? It’s so cruel!’

          ‘Yes it is. It could die without water.’

          ‘Should we tell the RSPCA do you think?’

          ‘Best to keep it among ourselves. I don’t want the owners to suspect me of reporting them, which they probably would once they heard I had been bringing water. Don’t worry, it’s all in hand. Old Norm is going to have a quiet word in the right ear.’

          I wasn’t so sure any word from Old Norm in any ear could be quiet, but I was happy to learn something was being done to address the problem, and hopefully shame the owners to either sell the pony or look after it properly.

          I learned some time ago that while country people in our village might appear to have a fairly cold relationship with animals, both domestic and wild, they can’t abide suffering. And so, smallholdings might raise pigs and sheep almost as pets, in relatively luxurious conditions and even giving them names – but once they are big enough they are led away to the slaughterhouse without any hesitation. Deer, rabbits and squirrels might be shot as pests, or to be eaten, but no-one from the village would admit to leaving any creature half alive to die slowly of their wounds. At the same time, our village is proud to help with the preservation of owl, butterfly and bat colonies, and outside experts are frequent visitors, especially those involved in plotting the habitats of adders and grass snakes inhabiting rough land.

          Young Sally climbed back up into the cab of the tractor. She called down to me, ‘See you in the pub later? One more load of bales should do it. Should have it all in by tonight.’ She suddenly sounded rather despondent at the prospect of the work finishing for another year.

          ‘Ok,’ I said. ‘I’m buying!’ It was the least I could do, given how she was looking after someone else’s horse. One good turn deserves another, after all.



Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The School Fete

If swarms of cyclists, cream teas at the shop and house sale signs aren't enough to signal the advent of summer in our village, you can be sure it has arrived once all the local event notices go up.

Throughout the summer months, these little signs mushroom at T-junctions, sharp bends in the road and in front of the Church and the village shop; the landlady even permits a select few on the pub’s grass verge. They urge you to attend all manner of summer events – steam fairs, gardens open for charity, summer fetes, mediaeval jousts, and fun dog shows - to mention but a few variations on a theme. For the more highbrow there are string quartets with Pimms, and Shakespeare in pub gardens; then open air evening performances of operas, or the 1812 complete with canons. You could fill every weekend with these events, and still be spoilt for choice.

Tramp and I went to our first summer fete last weekend, held on our village green in aid of the local school. The hot weather had brought everyone out, and we chatted to friends and neighbours we met as we took a leisurely stroll around stalls. The beer tent in the far corner acted like a magnet to the thirsty, a useful half-way point to cool down. Indeed, so popular was it that they ran out of beer later in the afternoon, and after a frantic ring-around, Brian volunteered to drive to the fete being held a couple of villages away to buy one of their surplus barrels (at a huge profit to them).

Each event followed fast on the heels of the one before throughout the afternoon. I felt for the children performing their country dances and sports displays in the central arena where there was no shade; and similarly, because of the heat, I couldn’t put Tramp, or myself as his escort, through the ordeal of the ‘fun’ dog show (and surely these shows are really for children with their pets?) Permeating all arena activities, and filling the brief gaps in between, were booming announcements given by someone who had evidently always longed to hold a microphone to his mouth, and who should never have been allowed within arm’s length of one.

We did our part, though, to help replenish the school’s coffers for the year, although I’m not sure what the money is needed for. I seriously doubt any child in the school’s entire catchment area is in dire need of books, pencils or crayons, or even an iPhone or iPad, or two. Besides buying tickets for every raffle we came across, we bought cakes at the cake stall and an ice cream at the ice-cream stand; we bought cold drinks and yes, a beer or two from the beer tent. We had a cream tea later in the tea tent. We bought sweets and plants; second hand books I shall probably never read; and a selection of cheeses – to go with the bottle of red I won on the bottle stall.

All good things must come to an end, and once I felt we had thoroughly investigated everything every stall had to offer, Tramp and I took our leave. As I wandered past the shop and the pub I noticed how eerily quiet they were – although the pub may not have opened yet for the evening, of course. It occurred to me that there were probably ten times as many people at the fete than would normally frequent both premises combined, on a single day – and that like me, they were all buying what both the shop and the pub sold every day of the week.

So rather than raising funds, the school fete really re-distributed what could otherwise be local business income – and then some. I wondered if the cheese had come from the shop in the first place.

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Church Hall AGM

Last week we had the AGM for the Church Hall committee in our village. Tramp and I went along, to lend our support. Along with Marianne, we were the only residents to represent the ‘interested public’.

The Church Hall has had a fairly good year financially it seems, especially from being hired out for children’s parties and local club meetings. These were interspersed with the usual crop of the latest exercise classes that mushroom through the winter - yoga, Pilates and Zumba each enjoyed a predictably short run in our village despite the initial bouncy enthusiasm of the organiser.

Brian, as treasurer, soon turned to the Hall’s fund-raising events held through the year, and again, the news was of unparalleled profit. He distributed copies of the Profit and Loss statement and Balance Sheet to all those present as he spoke, delivering his report with a professional ease.

In our village, there is also a certain predictability to which fundraisers are held each year, and who holds each one. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say the assumed ‘rights’ to a particular event are jealously guarded. A few years ago, the youth club committee even threatened to sue the football club for threatening to run a second Easter egg hunt that year, a week before the youth club’s regular hunt. The football club backed down, and contented themselves with the fireworks display and bonfire in November which they always lay claim to.

Similarly, every year the local school runs the summer fete on the green, while the gardening club organises its late summer BBQ (this year they are ringing the changes, slightly, with a hog roast, but no-one is sure if this is a wise move). The cricket team tried a winter 'barn' dance last year in their pavilion, but with little success – just as they have been unable to rally enough men to field a team this summer, they found it difficult to encourage men to come to a dance, even one where a caller shouts the moves.

To raise money for the church, and to tap into the more moneyed classes whose social calendar spares little room for lowbrow village events, Judith and Donald have always arranged a summer opera evening, with Pimms, on the lawns of The Manor (or in their real barn if it is raining). Once the Manor is sold, if it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if a covenant wasn’t written into the contract binding the new owners to continue to arrange the opera night.

All these competing events through the year make it difficult to come up with new ideas for how the Church Hall might raise funds for itself. And so, at the AGM the fall back position was re-assumed - the quiz night, the autumn ‘party’ (avoiding the gender-divisive word, ‘dance’ at all costs), and the Christmas murder-mystery were all scheduled.

          ‘These events all brought a tidy profit last year,’ said Brian, ‘so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do so again this year.’      

That said, a vote of thanks was proposed and seconded to the outgoing committee, and duly minuted. The same committee members were then re-elected with unsmiling formality. Like our village’s social calendar, no real changes were made; but there would need to be a fairly drastic set of circumstances to justify any alteration to what has become the status quo. In any case, it meant that proceedings were over fairly quickly and we could all adjourn to the pub – having ‘phoned ahead, as usual, to make sure the landlady had opened up.