Village my arse!

  • In real villages there is seldom a pond, and shops and post offices have been closing for years because, like everyone else, real villagers use email, shop at cheap supermarkets and blow their brains out at home with Australian shiraz. In my Yorkshire village there was no post office, the village pub was long shut and there was only one service a month at the church, although it did have regular sex parties.

    You encounter such things in Barnes as well, but they are hidden behind the picket fences and bijou shops of a world imagined by Margo Ledbetter from ‘The Good Life’, a world of pretty surface and no depths. There are antique shops and art shops, but can you name one painter of interest who works in Barnes? Dulwich likewise has an art shop with noticeboards advertising pilates and life-wellness coaches , all to fill a cultural vacuum that can never be filled. There is a chocolatier and a patisserie, the success of which suggests that the model of the English village is no longer culturally exclusive enough: Dulwich wants to become a French village. Then, too embarrassed to vote British National Party, it could at least vote Front National.

    In his 75 years Billy never went to France, yet he didn’t like the French believing that, like people from Leeds, they were ‘a bit tricky’. He didn’t like the Germans either, as the Luftwaffe had dropped an incendiary bomb behind the village hall in 1941 on the night of the monthly dance. The phosphorous had illuminated the countryside for miles around revealing Billy, trousers around his ankles, with a woman who was not his wife. The ensuing controversy nearly forced him to move to the nearby town, but war being war the outraged husband was posted away and Billy was able to stay on in the rural village that was his home.

    Once London was made up of similar rural villages, but they naturally disappeared as the city grew. Attempting to undo that process is to set your face against the very idea of London, the agglomeration of people and place. Pretend your bit of the city is a village and you wander without wellies into a boggy field of half-truths and fantasy. Which is why London’s can write: ‘BlackheathVillage remains a beautiful haven of tranquillity only a few miles from the centre of London.’

    Blackheath actually remains a village that has been poleaxed by the B212 cutting through from the south circular to Shooters Hill Road. A village where the fishmongers and the independent bookshops have closed down. Such self-delusion cannot last and eventually the villages will be subsumed into both the city and the twenty-first century. The last of the villagers will be forced out to the Home Counties to finish the ruination of rural life there until all villages are like the small hamlet of Sutton in Sussex, where the village pub is a restaurant and the one row of council houses for the remnant of agricultural labourers is hidden down a lane. Which really is shit.

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