‘There’s an ice cream van in the village,’ Andy interrupted long overdue hoovering to inform me of this surprising development.
The village has one street and 250 inhabitants, not all of whom live here I recently learnt. We don’t suffer from the curse of second home erosion of communities in the way some places do, like Salcombe. But in a small place like this, a few second homes can make a noticeable dent in the resident population. We’ve just spent a week using Salcombe as a base for walking stretches of the South West Coastal Path and, even though we’d been warned by a neighbour, were surprised to see the dramatic transformation when the weekend became the working week and the offspring of second-homers returned to London leaving holidaymakers like us and the people who actually live in the town (it’s estimated that up to 80% of houses are second homes). The place went from busy and buzzing to a tranquil, sleepy-ish town that felt like it was out of season despite it being mid-June with the weather in the mid-20s.
Anyway, back to the ice cream van, whose jaunty tune as it rolled through the village drew us open-mouthed to the window as if a UFO had just flown down the main street (the only street). When such a wondrous thing appears on a hot Saturday, you have to make use of it if there’s any chance of it making a return visit. Andy was despatched with debit card and a request to ‘get whatever looks good.’
By the time she returned, my honeycomb ice cream was already sending sweet and sticky rivulets over her knuckles. She’d got talking to neighbours who’d also been drawn by the promise of Cornish ice cream. Unfortunately, in their haste they’d pulled the door of the house behind them, locking themselves out. What was worse was that it wasn’t even their house, it was that of other neighbours who were away. They were simply making sure all was shipshape and Bristol fashion when the ice cream van distracted them. What was even more of a disaster was one of their laptops was inside and they didn’t have a spare key.
But that wasn’t the afternoon’s main drama.
While we were pouring over the Saturday Guardian, somebody knocked the door. Our door knocker is in the shape of a fox. It’s quite fetching but it’s useless as a way of alerting us, sounding more like someone in the distance absently tapping their fingers against wood. By the time we decide there is actually someone at the door, said person is usually halfway down the street. Luckily, it’s not a long street. When I eventually opened the door, a neighbour was in the middle of the road.
‘You don’t have any visitors, do you? It’s just that there’s a badly parked car and it’s difficult for anyone to get through.’
To illustrate the point, 30 metres along the road two other neighbours were directing a car through the narrow space between a car parked the way it should be (has to be) and another opposite, parked away from the wall to give both driver and passenger room to get out. The road through the village is so narrow residents park tight against houses/garden walls to allow other vehicles access. The fact the rogue car hadn’t adhered to this unwritten rule revealed they were clearly not a resident.
We didn’t have visitors, so I couldn’t help.
But Andy possessed information that could. Our immediate neighbours were having a soiree in the back garden, and it was obvious they did have visitors. Off I popped into the street again, where a congregation of residents patrolled the lower half of the village; vigilantes trying to track down the culprit. But before I could pass on my information, the village handyman hissed at me from within dense foliage opposite our house.
‘Do me a favour, grab the hanging basket of flowers in my car.’
I grabbed the basket, noting it had completely soaked the passenger seat, and tried to pass it through the hedge. But the handyman had disappeared.
‘What the hell are you doing standing on the street with a basket of flowers?’ Andy appeared at our front door, surprised to find I’d mysteriously acquired a bouquet of flowers.
‘I’ll tell you in a minute,’ I replied, trying to pass the flowers to a talking hedge and anxious to attract the attention of the bad-parking vigilantes who were heading in the opposite direction. Eventually, I got rid of the flowers and, ignoring Andy who was imploring me not to ‘snitch’ on our partying neighbours, caught up with the vigilantes.
‘Have you tried J and G?’ I asked.
‘They’re away,’ replied one.
‘No, they’re not. There’s folk in their garden.’
Problem solved. The gathering consisted of whoever was looking after the house and their friends, a group of early twentysomethings whose lack of knowledge of village parking etiquette had caused the afternoon’s drama.
It might sound like something and nothing, but the bad parking closed off access through the village to anything bigger than the average-sized car … including ice cream vans.
And that is just not on.