The village newsletter - emblazoned with two whole colours in celebration of the diamond jubilee this month - announced with great fanfare that superfast broadband has arrived in the village. This is a complete lie. I can roast a chicken in the time it takes to load a single page. Those people at BT must think us fools. Everybody here knows that our local broadband exchange is powered by hamsters. The run around in a little wheel and when they get tired all the lights go off.
This is Dave. Despite appearances, he is not locked in a dungeon. He is the postmaster at the local post office, which is several miles away. In a recent revamp, you will notice he has preserved the original features (dungeon things) while introducing state-of-the-art mod-cons like a dry cleaning service and a cripple-box in the shape of Sooty. I told him you can't use words like cripple any more, so he apologised and promised to changed it immediately to spaz.
The village has been hit by a major scandal... all the money from last year's festival has gone missing. And we're not talking about chicken feed either. We're talking the mysterious vanishing act of £20,000 which has obviously been trousered by various village worthies and their cronies. Excellent! A sabre-rattling action group has sprung up out of nowhere and it looks like this one could run and run. According to the vitriolic open letter posted to every household in the village and accompanied by a good old-fashioned petition, the local Parish Politbureau has point-blank refused to answer any questions about it and has failed to turn up for an enquiry meeting with the all-powerful leader of the town council. God, I wish I'd run for parish councillor now. I've just LOVE to be a fly on the wall, and I bet there are a few households in the village that aren't sleeping particularly well since the shit hit the fan. Oh, goody. I do so enjoy a nice juicy scandal. I'm going for a wander up the village shop in a minute to buy some wine and see if I can get any details out of Mandy.
There is worrying rumour that we are soon to be subjected to a clump of those hideous wind turbines a couple of miles up the road on the edge of the valley where I live. Now, don't get me wrong, I understand all about renewable energy, blah blah blah, but is it really necessary to site these unsightly things in one of the prettiest parts of the country? Naturally, money must be changing hands somewhere, greasing the palms of local government. But don't get me started on that, eh?
I have written to my local MP and given him the plain scientific facts of the matter. In order for the UK to be able to rely on wind-powered renewables, we would have to cover an area the size of Wales with turbines. Sticking to the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid), I have suggested that they do exatly that. After all, we already know that Wales is the most depressing part of the United Kingdom. And as I said to the MP, if the shoe fits...
HOW CLEAN IS YOUR HOUSE?
Die-hard CTM readers who have been popping in to look at the blog over the years will know that I have been desperate since Ruth The Housekeeper left. It's been about 16 months now, with no domestic help at all due to my utter skintness, and the house should probably be condemned. Just as I was about to torch the place, a little home-made leaflet came fluttering through the letterbox from a lady called Maria who is moving to the area and looking for cleaning work. We've had a little chat on the phone, and she seems very nice, if a little bitter. The reason she's moving here is that she's going through a very nasty divorce. (Cue sound effect of me rubbing my hands together at the prospect of some major vitriolic feminist gossip.)
All I've managed to get out of her so far is that she is of grandmother age, (which, let's face it, could be anything from 29 years old upwards if the Jeremy Kyle Show is anything to go by), and that she is moving here to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. Judging by the little hints she dropped on the phone, I reckon the divorce has come as something of a shock to her, and that her husband has been sticking his kippers under somebody else's grill. She's popping in this weekend to meet me, so I promise to weedle us much information out of the interview and report back to you. Mind you, if she has any sense, she'll take one look at the cesspit I'm living in and run a hundred miles.
Phil McCavity, the nuisance neighbour over the road who's been 'doing up' his front garden for 4 bloody years, seems to have gone over the edge. The husband and I are convinced that his wife has left him. Either that or she's under the patio he's been building for God knows how long. 'I think she's gone,' the husband announced dramatically, hiding behind the curtain. 'I'm not bloody surprised,' I said. Personally, I would have done him in with a shovel long ago. Anyway, in an interesting new twist, the dog appears to have gone too. Now this, I have to concede, is a terrible shame. Fletcher The Basset Hound is quite possibly my favourite person in the village, and I don't even like dogs. Fletch, it seems, has had enough of it there too, packed his dog bowls and marched of to find himself a better life. I wish he'd taken me with him.
Had a letter from the planning department of the local district council announcing that my neighbour is planning on building the first super-casino about 50 yards from my back door. To put you in the picture, my house is sandwiched between two very big and mind-bendingly expensive dwellings. Unsurprisingly, the staggeringly wealthy chap behind the planning application is a consultant surgeon. His wife is the very epitome of Yummy Mummyness, always beautifully turned out, goes to the gym, dresses like a magazine and has inexplicable hair. She has a habit of turning up at my door and finding me still in my moth-eaten dressing gown, usually stuffing my face with a massive lump of two-day-old pizza (the kitchen door is fully glazed with a huge window next to it, so there's nowhere to hide if you're caught red-handed). Yes, yes, it may well be 2.30 in the afternoon, but show me the legislation that says you have to be wearing clothes by the time the Channel 5 rubbish movie starts. So anyway, I get this letter from the planners and look around mournfully at the putty falling out of our windows. Maybe I should have thought about my career options when I was a kid instead of learning how to down a pint in 10 seconds and make funny shapes with napkins.
Prime T-bone steak of juicy gossip, I have it from a reliable source that there is a woman in our village who likes to publish photographs of herself, in various poses, on the tinterweb. And we're not talking about the kind of stuff one could show to one's parents. She has given herself a suitable porno handle, something like Bunny du Fluff, and - much to the shock of her viewers, I anticipate - gives it the old one-two with a body that should have seen the scrap heap a couple of decades ago. Think along the lines of Pat Butcher running a premium-rate phone line with visuals and you'll get the picture. She did rather well, from what I hear, so decided to start selling adult battery-operated devices as an additional revenue stream. Being an enterprising sort, and no doubt wanting to save the commission on a PO box number, she's given out her street address for orders. Natch, the gossip has spread through the village like the plague, with her being our very own Madame Sin. I'm quite thrilled for her and am about to email her asking if she has any gizmos that one can plug straight into the mains.
It's festival weekend from tomorrow. Yep... the big field next to the village is currently being transformed into a Crimewatch re-enactment of a hippie rockfest. My house will suddenly become über popular when all my fairweather friends remember that they can freeload here for the weekend rather than pitch up a tent. The teenagers have insisted that they be given adult wristbands, rather than poofy underage ones, announcing that they intend to get slaughtered in the beer tent which is heavily policed by wristband detectives. Fine by me... at least they're less likely to spot me sitting on top of a haystack with a big skunky one.
Selfish bastard of the week prize goes to the man who lives in the house across the road. He has decided to adopt the leafy corner that runs around the bottom of the road, so that he can make his horrible house look bigger and more expensive I presume. He has subsequently excavated the land, making my previously nice village road look more like Baghdad. Now, and get this, he's having half a forest of trees out with a chainsaw. The noise is unbelievable. How am I supposed to relax and fall asleep in front of Columbo? You should see him out there, flailing around with his powertool of Texas Massacre proportions. Reckons he's really hard. I'm gonna hire me a JCB tomorrow and pull his walls down.
Big on the list of weekly events here in Hicksville is the fish and chip van, known in our house as The Deep Fat Chuggerbug. It lumbers up around five o'clock on a Friday and stinks the road out with great steaming clouds of rancid fry smells billowing out of the windows. They recently upgraded from the converted ambulance to a Tefal mini-coach. Rank is simply not the word. On a Saturday, he sneaks it to a location somewhere near the Church and disgorges his lard down the drain in the road. If you don't offer him the right money, he huffs and sighs as though he's been asked to rebuild your extension. Some people are just miserable fuckers, don't you think?
Important Notice: The Deep Fat Chuggerbug caught fire and burned to the ground during the last-but-one village festival, and is, thankfully, no more. I am duty bound to point out that it was in no way connected to the entirely fabulous 'Fishy Business' fish and chip van that lives somewhere in Peterborough. Thank you, Phil, for pointing that out. I expect a free bag of chips.
It's arrived... the annual promotional leaflet from Ken the greengrocer. He has five - yes five - types of potato on offer and has kindly described what one should do with each (e.g. chipping, roasting, shoving up the neighbour's exhaust pipe). The artwork is up to the usual fabulous standard, with the pile of potatoes looking suspiciously like a heap of dog shit.
There's been some kind of Satan Bug going around. Poor lady up the shop looked close to death's door last week. We weren't sure if it wasn't just another heavy night on the disco biscuits, but she assured me that the only drugs passing her lips at the moment were a thousand milligrams of penicillin a day. That's a lot, isn't it? I reckon her constitution tough as old boots. It's a pound of smack or nothing.
PAUL THE MILKIE
Paul used to work for himself. Turned up every morning without fail. Always left a nice little note on the bill. Then he got taken over by Express Dairies. The Saturday morning delivery disappeared, but we all managed, taking it in our stride. Now Express Dairies has sold him down the river to Dairy Crest Ltd, and our deliveries are down to three times a week. That's not right, is it? We don't want their corporate politics around here. Still, I suppose you can't stop progress.
USEFUL COUNTRY-ISH FACT
If you hit a pheasant in your car - (I'm talking running one over, rather than already having one on the back seat and punching it in the face) - you're not allowed to stop and take it home for the pot. Yet if you're driving the car behind the one that hit it, you are. What's the point of that then? Do they think we're all going to start poaching free roasting birds using our vehicles? That'd be pretty interesting.
A ripple of excitement... Driving home yesterday, noticed the fuzz in a car with flashing blue lights crawling up the road towards us. The twelve year old officer behind the wheel was talking into a PA system, telling everyone to go indoors and close their windows. Younger daughter looks at me. I look at her. At the next (only) junction, the road is blocked by plastic bollards and another stern officer. We hear more sirens. Police and emergency services flood the village. What's this? A terrorist cell behind the old post office? Another crime against fashion at the local hairdressers? We caught a ribbon of smoke rising from behind a farm building. Yes, you've guessed it. Compost fire.
Mister T is a lovely old man. Lives in the village up the road. Runs a greengrocery in the next village. I'm not sure if he's getting deaf or doing a bit doolally, but conversations with him are becomingly increasingly bizarre. That's okay with me. I like bizarre. I asked him the other day if the peaches were still okay, or would I be better sticking to the nectarines? His face took on a look of grave concern and he shook his head. 'It was okay,' he said. 'But the weather was a bit changeable and you never know who you're going to be stuck with at dinner.'
We were invited for drinkies, 6-8pm, last Friday at one of the posh houses. We arrived to find the most enormous marquee erected in the garden with hot and cold running waitresses. What we had assumed would be a sitting around listening to the clock ticking affair actually turned out to be a bit of a hoolie. By 7.30, most of the guests were slaughtered and the once polite murmur of conversation had risen to a full-on cackling rabble. I got stuck with Mr Intensely Boring from across the road. Getting away from him is an artform in itself. He was momentarily distracted by another neighbour so I made my escape by nipping behind a big shrub. You should have seen his face when he turned back and found me disappared into thin air.
THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS
It's Open Gardens weekend, where all the smug bastard gardeners in the village get to leave their gates open and sell plastic cups of warm squash for 50p a shot. The local vicar tried on several occasions to get us to open ours before giving up. We're walled in, you see, so you can't see the garden from outside. Granted, it's a nice space, but rummaging around in the undergrowth's really not my thing. You have never seen ground elder like I've got. I can imagine it now, people coming in through the Judas gate expecting to find a lovely secret garden and being faced with what looks like a neglected patch of allotments. I'd serve shots of Jack Daniels instead. And big lumps of space cake.
There was a bloody great punch-up in the playground of the village primary school between two of the fathers. Apparently, one of them had been knocking off the other one's wife, so he turned up at the school gates and decided to give him a bit of what for. Two grown men knocking seven bells out of each other is not a pretty sight, especially first thing in the morning. The police had to be called and some of the school children were very upset. They'd put money on one of the Dads to win but weren't banking on the other one having a baseball bat.
The most important person in our village by far is the butcher. When millennium year came around and most villages decided to put up some kind of celebratory totum pole or whatever to mark the occassion, I understand he proposed a big statue of himself holding a rib of beef. Don't get me wrong. He's a nice enough chap, but you wouldn't want to get roped into a conversation with him for more than about, oh, twenty seconds. When you nip in to buy a lump of dressed flesh, he has a very annoying habit of asking you what you plan on doing with it, then telling you how his wife makes that. I now go to great lengths to mention obscure recipes or just make things up. I've even gone in there and ordered sheeps' eyes just for the devilment. (Fed them to his dog round the back of the shop.)
THE PUB LANDLORD*
Here's a bit of gossip. On my way through the station the other day I saw the pub landlord. He's a strange one. His wife is entirely charmless and shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a customer. Trussed up in a suit and holding a briefcase of all things, he appeared to be studying a notice board with no information on it. I said hello. He said he was supposed to be going to a job interview. His answer was delivered with a knock-out gust of vodka fumes. It was ten in the morning. Reading between the lines, I reckon he's been fired. Off I went, but I kept an eye on him for a while. He hung around for a few more minutes then left without buying a ticket.
*Pub Landlord is an old post. Not surprisingly, he was fired shortly after this, or did a runner, never to be seen again. The current pub landlord, Mr Football, is a very nice man by the looks of it and serves a decent pint.