Thursday, 21 April 2011
There is something quite remarkable about the village in north Oxfordshire where I grew up and from where I am typing this post. Near the Cotswolds but not of it, we are something of an undiscovered treasure. The Hornton stone, with its gentle orange hue, is distinctly warmer than and superior to the stone used elsewhere in the county. There is, blessedly, still a great deal of unspoiled greenery.
It is unthinkable when walking though the village not to say hello to anyone who passes. But this is not an insular or gossipy place. It is a community in the best sense. And it has grown organically and proportionately. There are stalwart families who have lived here for generations and provide a backbone. There are also newcomers, perhaps from London or other citites, who have thrown themselves into activities in the village and are part of its very lifeblood.
The concept of social class seems anachronistic here; not because there are no differences in wealth but because there are no differences in status. Everyone mixes unself-consciously and relaxedly.
There is a farm shop which rents out space to holiday-makers in caravans and a lovely pub run by a Cornishman where that uniquely Oxfordshire phenomenon Aunt Sally is played. The village hall stages film nights once a month, a pantomime at Christmas, coffee mornings during the week and various other events.
When the Hardys were living here they flew a union jack alongside the Irish tricolour. Ben, an Ivy League-educated Harley Davidson rider, flew a Ghanaian flag. Each flag was splendid and welcome. Ben and the Hardys loved their countries and loved their village.
This place will always be home for me. It will be home for many more people, including people who are already adults but who don't currently live in the county, or perhaps even the country. And the village will be all the richer for that, just as it is enriched by the collective knowledge, experience, wisdom and love of those families that have been woven into the fabric for generations.
Ronald Reagan compared America to a shining city on a hill. I think we might usefully compare England to a village and seek to emulate what a good village does well.
A village ceases to be a village if it grows exponentially but benefits greatly from a small infusion of new blood and when the newcomers want to embrace village life. Those that don't have the capacity to cause real distress and unhappiness. It's good to live somewhere where, whilst not everyone knows your name, they will greet you with a smile. Trees and grass matter and they are hard if not impossible to replace when they are gone. Privacy and peace are vital, yet so too are human interaction and warmth, drinking and talking and dancing.
If the rest of the country were like the village that raised me, we would be a whole lot happier.