So there I was the other day, expelling two pints of cider and in walked a whistling man and I farted. You can tell a lot about an area from the men’s loo. Working with inner city louts, I learnt from their crimes to avoid public toilets which are easy territory for mugging. Drowning my apology for ruining his musicality, the man congratulated me on perfect punctuation. Thus began a wide ranging conversation which ended up at the table my wife and I had taken a pub meal. That’s old England for you.
We had been celebrating Valentine’s Day in an ancient coaching inn erected in 1680. The structure was buried beneath 1980s Spanish plastering, the oak beams under glossy black paint, dense varnish covered the old stone floor and behind inappropriate wallpaper a fireplace hid. However, the staff were cheerful and the tables were decorated with hearts, candles and a flora burst.
The food was the worst we’ve had since returning to England from France where food had often been of the same standard, much to everyone’s surprise here in England. The starter was greasy, the vegetables rubbish, the pie nasty; unusually for me, I left most of it, making up for my loss with the delicious cider.
Typical of this corner of England, the atmosphere was convivial, people rubbed along and enjoyed one another’s company, looking up from their plates and smiling as we settled. As they left they would stop, lean over tables and chat to one another and they laughed if somebody else, even a stranger, added something to their conversation. Next to us a young couple with learning difficulties given money by their parents for a night out, sat gawping at one another. When a teacher from her past entered, the girl rose and rushed over to hug the woman and spent the rest of the meal looking over her shoulder smiling avidly; the teacher and her girlfriend took it in their stride.
Friends warned us not to move to this part of the country, “Low incomes, not much hope for the young. Miserable weather, rains a lot, very windy....” Yet the reality is that there’s almost full employment - we’ve asked locals, we’ve checked the internet, both correlate. Wages are lower but people generally tell us they want for little and are genuinely content. You see it on their faces, hear it in the voices as they serve you, as they smile walking past, as they tell you about their lives. Maybe it’s the cider? Everyone we’ve met from bright young things to the middle aged say they don’t want to live anywhere but here - and we’ve talked to a fair cross-section.
Really, it’s not the cider, it runs deeper. they value the simple things such as sunsets, country walks, family and friends. It’s a treasure to find a corner of the world where the claws of consumerism aren’t clutching at people’s hearts, where the natural values of a life lived with ease is what people want. How to lure the rest of us to this? It would certainly sort out Global Warming.