I always tremble when I see the signs go up in our village, " We Have Entered the Best Kept Village Competition ". I feel somewhat like (I think) Spike Milligan's father who, when Chamberlain came on the radio and intoned, ‘We are now at war with Germany ‘, jumped up and said, ‘What's this we business? ‘. Similarly, I don't feel that I have ever entered any best kept village competition, and I think it is beneath our dignity to do so. I am all in favour of keeping things tidy, but when you get into the heritage realm of making things look like a tourist poster, it is getting too far.
For instance, there is a telegraph pole in our village up which a clematis has been climbing for several years and which now spreads out in several directions along several different wires, forming a wonderful sort of floral umbrella over the street. The other day a female BT operative arrived in a van and swarmed up the pole with a bag of tools. I rushed out to stop her.
‘Spare that flower!’ I said. ‘All right, I know it's dangerous! All right, I know it will bring the wires down! All right, you're only doing your duty! But here's a fiver to leave it alone! ‘
She looked at it as if she hadn't even noticed it, which she indeed had not.
‘Don't worry, I've only come to do a wire repair job.’
But I do worry. I worry that all the wild things that have lodged in crannies and grown comfortably into the village will be swept away by some anonymous gang of Village Keepers. The ivy-leaved toadflax on the wall, the elder trees filling gaps here and there, the old man's beard, the rich beards and moustaches pencilled in by nature, the graffiti artist on the canvas of human planning. I have always liked those old prints showing the main street in some far off place like Cremona or Ferrara to be not classical landscapes but absolutely derelict and full of broken down peasants and verdant undergrowth everywhere.
I hope they don't clean up the remains of the passing of the farm vehicles along our main street, always loaded so full of hay or straw or manure that little bits drop off here and there or are tugged off by the hedgerows, so that just be looking at the village street you can usually tell what the farmer has been doing today, and where he has been.
I especially hope they don't attack the wall outside the Limpley Stoke Hotel, our local sleeping emporium. This old stone wall spreads for many yards along the village street and is garlanded with valerian (red and white), brambles, poppies, herb robert and many other things including, this year, a selection of tall handsome teasels. It's the sort of wall that a Best Kept Village keeper would attack with a flame-thrower. I keep meaning to write a letter to the hotel to implore them not to let any do-gooders get near the wall, but I never got round to it, and then one day I walked down the street and...
No, it was all still there. I actually bumped into Anne, one of our most long-time residents, who owns the clematis which is making BT's pole look so good, and expressed the fear to her that gardening fundamentalists might clear up the wall.
‘Too late,’ she said. ‘The competition has already been judged.’
‘How did we do?’
‘We came sixth in our group,’ she said.
‘How many were there in our group?’ I asked.
‘Six,’ she said. ‘We were sixth out of six.’
That's my kind of village.
The Oldie July 17 1995