Nothing would get done in the countryside without these stalwarts of village life. Country Life finds the essential characters who make the world go round. By Kate Green, with illustrations by John Holder.
The Rev Geraldine is desperate for a gin and tonic. The Evensong congregation numbered eight, including Col Blenkinsop’s wire-haired dachshund, Hebe, grumbling away in a pew – her owner remains stuck in 1662, bellowing over what’s on the service sheet – and the organist lost count of the verses in The King of Love.
She’s taken four services in four different parishes today – she had to forgo two roast-lunch invitations to do a christening, but that’s better than having to eat three Harvest Suppers. Geraldine’s arrival at St Botolph’s caused a bit of a stir – it was the purple hair streaks rather than her sex – but Holy Communion at the old folks’ home has never been so well attended and even Col Blenkinsop says it’s worth being ill for a visit from the vicar and Moses, her cheerful Battersea mutt.
Chairing the parish council has given Jim something to get stuck into besides birdwatching – he spotted a hoopoe through the telescope while on traffic-flow monitoring duties this morning, which he’ll post on the village Facebook page – and teaching navigation to the Cubs. (Dai the Shop thinks it’s funny to greet him with a ‘Morning, Admiral!’ – he hasn’t had the heart to admit that he only made commodore.)
Jim’s gentle but firm tones – he could make a sinking ship sound no more alarming than the capsizing of a boat in the bath – will come in handy when he has to break the news about the housing plan at the open meeting in the village hall next week.
His secret ambition is to be an MP, but marital harmony with Ursula took a long time to recover from Brexit; securing the local Cabinet member to open the fête and counting slips at the polling station is probably as good as it’ll get.
You know spring’s on the way when Seth takes off his shirt to mow the lawn. He makes elderly ladies nostalgic, middle-aged ones restless and comes with a warning for young ones. He’s ever so strong – although his elevenses intake is starting to tell – and is your man for roofing, logging, hedge-cutting, mole-catching, tree-pruning, drain-clearing, beating, pheasant-plucking, lamping, night lambing stints, window cleaning, mowing the cricket pitch, bowling out the opposition, deadly darts playing and wringing the necks of pet chickens past their laying days.
He’s kind-hearted and hopeless at charging – his red Mitsubishi truck doubles as an office and springer spaniel Molly’s kennel. Despite the Poldarkian image, he’s still living at home with his mum, Peg, who does for the manor, Mrs Araminta and nice Mr Clutterbuck; she’s a stickler for tea at 6pm and effortlessly sees off hapless potential daughters-in-law.
The local celebrity
Anoushka loves it that no one had a clue who she was until her short-lived stint on Strictly. Her sou’wester, overalls and vacant village-idiot act – ‘Aaar, Miss ’Noushka’s gone up to town to make another of them floppy discs’ – still bamboozles the hopeful paparazzi who train their lenses as she milks her cute black-and-white Zwartbles sheep or feeds her rescue battery hens.
“Judging the dog show is just her favourite thing – she’s got an adorable cockapoo puppy on order”
Her parents, who visited from Ukraine last year, think she must be mad to want to live in a converted piggery (even if it does have under-floor heating) instead of a gated community in town, but skittle night at the Ferret and Sack beats the boring old Brit Awards hands down and Seth was very helpful when he came to fix the burglar alarm. Judging the dog show is just her favourite thing – she’s got an adorable cockapoo puppy on order.
The bossy lady
If you want something done, ask a busy woman. Araminta (Minty to friends) is counting the contents of her Red Cross collecting tin – twice as full as anyone else’s (‘What do you mean you’ve got a direct debit? I’m not taking no for an answer!’) – while waiting for a Dundee cake to rise for tomorrow’s Cancer Research coffee morning and Zephyr the whippet, panting pathetically by the Aga, to pup.
There’s a call to make to a farmer who still hasn’t moved his sheep out of the Pony Club rally field and a reminder to Brown Owl that she can’t have the village hall on Tuesday because of the Countryside Alliance whist drive. There’s just time to put her feet up with a whisky and The Archers – Lynda Snell is her heroine – before the play rehearsal. She’s a natural Lady Bracknell, everyone tells her. You’d never know she’s turning 80 next month.
The lord of the manor
What Sir Henry Fossick really longs for is an allotment in which to grow roses, talk to bees and retreat from Lady Daphne, his accountant, his feckless godson, that annoying little man from Defra and the terminally tin-rattling Minty. They all think he’s a bottomless pit, but the truth is that the gymkhanas, alfresco operas and Conservative Party cheese and wines, among other endless bunfights at medieval Fossick Manor, are useless for plugging the hole through which the dwindling Fossick fortune is pouring.
He’d love to hold a rave – that Anoushka girl to whom he sold The Piggery is really rather sexy – but the parish council will never wear it. He’s dreading the locals discovering that Bottom Acres could have 50 new houses under the village plan, but it’s all that’s keeping the roof on.
Every time the men from the brewery turn up at the Ferret and Sack, Will Perryman sticks his fingers in his ears. He’s not having any of this gastro malarky of calamari, flowery tonics or cabbage cooked in cream – pub food is cottage pie, Stilton ploughman’s, ham-and-mustard sandwiches and his wife Daisy’s legendary pork crackling on Sundays, washed down with Black Sheep (or a Pinot Grigio for the ladies) – and he’s keeping schtum about the lock-in after skittle night last week.
The widescreen TV installed for the Grand National was the thin end of the wedge – he’s still mystified as to how old Silas Frogwell won the sweepstake without sticking his pound in in the first place.
Dai the Shop is going to see off the Lidl at the garage out on the main road if it’s the last thing he does. He’s installed a Costa coffee machine, to the annoyance of Mrs Bunn at the teashop, a deli counter selling that very pleasant Russian pop star’s sheep’s milk and he’s ordered in the Brancott Estate wine that middle-aged people seem to be downing by the caseload.
Regulars are greeted with their paper and the morning headlines – often an approving ‘About time Mrs May put so-and-so in his place’ – but foul-weather customers, who only patronise the shop when they’re snowed in, will get a harrumph. He’s about the only person not upset about the post-office closure; the arrival of jolly Mrs Stamp and her counter has perked him up – a startlingly rich baritone Men of Harlech emanates from the storeroom, especially during the 6 Nations.
Roderick Clutterbuck hasn’t had to cook Sunday lunch for 12 months, such is his popularity with the ladies of the parish: he’s as consistently charming to their nubile god-daughters as to 91-year-old Dotty Firkin, who’s as deaf as a post, and he always writes a proper thank-you letter with a fountain pen.
Roderick can be relied upon to fill in at the library, where he’s the only one who can reach the top shelf, make up a four at bridge, devise the pub quiz and score the cricket; his anxious hospital-car-run passengers will find a comforting, albeit dusty, humbug in the glove compartment of his clapped-out Subaru.
A worrying tightness about the moleskin waistcoat has forced him to take Montgomery the labrador on longer constitutionals; the village would be startled to know that he uses these to devise bodice-ripper novels in his head.
Young Jason Thicket has his hand up to ask why Wellington didn’t just nuke Napoleon and have done with it and the fact that someone trod in a cowpat on the nature ramble is proving a distraction (‘There’s a funny smell in here, Miss, I feel sick’), but unflappable Letitia Chalk is determined to instill flower names, correct punctuation, the kings of England and manners into Year 3.
It’s a far cry from the stimulating analysis of Paradise Lost at Cheltenham Ladies’ she’d envisaged in her Girton days, but her effortless knowledge, special Paddington voice, italic handwriting, purple tights and wire-haired fox terrier, Plato, entrance her small pupils. She can’t know it, but when Master Thicket becomes Foreign Secretary, he will name her as ‘the teacher who inspired me’.
Gavin wonders if he hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew with The Importance of Being Earnest. He was so flattered to be asked that he couldn’t admit that he’s a BBC lawyer, not the producer of Taboo. Lady Bracknell goes berserk if prompted and the Rev Chasuble makes it up as he goes along – the only one who’s learned their lines is Miss Prism, that nice schoolteacher.
“He’s proofread the parish mag, sourced Alan Titchmarsh’s email for the WI… and, best of all, opened the batting for the cricket team.”
Gavin has been at Wisteria Cottage for six months, during which time he’s been tapped for a tenner in the tin for seven charities and somehow parted with a 1961 Château Lafite for the tombola; he’s proofread the parish mag, sourced Alan Titchmarsh’s email for the WI, listened to Col Blenkinsop’s Brexit conspiracy theory five times, apologised four times for not playing bridge, made three spurious excuses to get Seth round to do the guttering, run the coconut shy, walked Mrs Titmouse’s border terrier while her knee was gammy and, best of all, opened the batting for the cricket team. He’s never going back to Wimbledon.