I’ve never had experience of living in a village until now. I’ve lived in small communities. Rothesay where I grew up was one. Living in the middle of a banana plantation on Tenerife was another, as was living on sheep farms in both Portugal and Devon. But never in a bona fide village.
It is different.
Big towns and cities tend to be anonymous. When I had a flat in Levenshulme in Manchester, I had no idea who my neighbours were. It turned out one in the next block did a booming trade supplying the area with various Class A drugs, so maybe it was just as well. During seventeen years in a Stockport suburb, I never spoke to the people who occupied the houses around us … apart from Andy’s brother who lived next door. We weren’t deliberately aloof; it was just the way it was.
Moving house, even when it involved another country, I didn’t stop to think ‘I hope the folk around us will be okay’ until now.
We knew the village was in a great position. We knew the house suited us. But what about our neighbours? There’s only 250 people in the village. The chances are we’re going to cross paths with many of them on a regular basis. Then, after years of living in unusual places, there was the fear it might be too normal.
Four weeks in, and any concerns I had have been shoved away to the back of my mental cupboard.
Within days, one neighbour delivered an ‘introduction to the village’ leaflet to the front door; another turned up with a bunch of flowers; yet another left a welcome card in the letterbox. As well as introducing themselves, they included their dog and cat. Another two introduced themselves on the street. Some are retired, others are semi-retired, some are still working. Their occupations are diverse, many with elements we can connect with and chat about endlessly – like a journalist and writer who wants to learn Portuguese. Not that we’re going to be much use there. Others are farmers or work the land, such as the man who brought us a truck load of wood in a pick-up truck with a moose head (knitted) on its fender. He’s already a great source of information about the surrounding countryside. He’s not Adam through the window level, but he seems a useful source of juicy rural snippets.
During our first two weeks, we joined the village lunch club, meeting another twenty or so residents at the community-run pub in the next village. Again, these proved a mix of interesting folk with varied backgrounds – some were relatively recent residents whereas others have lived here all their lives. While munching a venison pie, I learned about which crops were grown in the fields around us; why pubs here have skittle alleys; what a local pub game called spoofing was; that there were two distinct parts to the village, the west and ‘downtown’ – the name one neighbour wittily applied to our part; and that some people in the next village along can be uppity whereas ours are more down-to-earth.
At a pop-up pub in the village’s medieval barn, I met more villagers, including a man tasked with hunting down rogue moles devastating village gardens. I heard about people we’ve yet to meet, including an actress who lived in the Far East, and a music producer.
Everyone is friendly, more welcoming than we could have imagined. I can’t help feeling we have been incredibly lucky. Four weeks in and I’ve really liked every single person I’ve met.
And, it turns out, I’ve already picked up local prejudices. Walking in fields near the neighbouring village yesterday, a woman walking her dog passed through a kissing-gate in front of us. She paused, and said in a somewhat condescending manner, ‘remember to put the latch back down’ even though we were dressed like people who are clearly familiar with hoofing it around the countryside.
‘Typical bloody snooty attitude for here,’ I remarked at her departing back as she headed toward the village we’d been warned was guilty of looking down its nose at its pub-less neighbour.