People who live in large, sparsely populated countries have a different definition of ‘nearby’ from ours. I know someone who thinks nothing of driving two hours for their weekly shop, including a stint on a car ferry. Another friend drives twelve hours to their ‘local’ hospital. When we asked my visiting Canadian cousin where she’d like us to take her while she was in England, she said ‘France’. My aunt, her grandmother, chose Scotland.
How lucky we are here in the Cotswolds to have so much within easy reach – not only essential facilities, but places of historic and cultural interest to enrich our lives. My latest discovery on our doorstep is the tiny, historic church of St Andrew at Leighterton. (Other tiny, historic churches are available, as the BBC might say.)
I don’t usually speak from a script at lit fests, but as I had just had Covid when the HULF Festival of Words* came around, I didn’t want to rely on my slightly fuzzy memory. Having written the script for my affectionate talk about the use of slang in school stories, I hung on to it, so that I could share it with you today here on my blog.
*HULF is the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, which I founded in my home village in 2015, and which has been running public events in various venues about the parish ever since.
This post first appeared in the June 2022 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, in the run-up to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – so please excuse the out-of-date final paragraph about that event.
Since joining the village choir and taking up bell ringing, I’ve been spending a lot more time in St Mary’s Church, and whenever I enter that ancient building, I feel a sense of calm that comes from being in a building that dates back over 1000 years. Its timelessness and permanence provide a helpful anchor in the midst of a busy life and a constant when everything else seems in flux.
I’d already decided on the topic for this month’s column when by a strange coincidence at church this morning the service included a prayer giving thanks for the constants in our lives, including the village school, the community shop and the pubs. It struck me as very Vicar of Dibley to say a prayer for the pubs (and very thankful we should be), but that may have been because our opening number at last night’s concert (which you can view on YouTube here) was the television show’s theme tune (Howard Goodall’s setting of “The Lord is my Shepherd” – you can listen to it here on YouTube).
Of course, the church building is not entirely constant. It has evolved over the centuries and continues to do so, in small and large ways – from the installation of new energy-saving lightbulbs which might go unnoticed to all but the person signing off the electricity bill, to the very visible restoration of the tower and the installation of eight very audible new bells.
The same goes for the built environment of the village: here a new extension, there a new house popping up in a spare bit of garden or a disused paddock, and sometimes, oh my goodness, along comes a whole new housing estate.
More subtle are the occasional changes of use, from barns and pubs and shops and places of worship to housing stock. The original purpose and many uses of the Methodist Chapel, which sadly closed at Easter, will be a treasured part of our collective memory for generations to come.
Only when showing a visitor around the village recently did I realise just how much the built environment of the village had altered in the 31 years that I’ve lived here. Perhaps the degree of change has been slightly masked by the continuity that comes from a calendar of regular community events. While some are longstanding institutions, such as the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show (135 years old and counting), others are relative newcomers, such as HU5K (turning 10 this month) and HULF – the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival (now 7).
Speaking of longstanding institutions, this month we’ll be celebrating another one that belongs to this village as much as to anywhere else in the country: HM The Queen. As for most people in Hawkesbury, she’s the only monarch I’ve ever lived under. Whatever your feelings on the monarchy, the stability of having a long-serving head of state does provide a welcome contrast to the tumultuous comings and goings of our political leaders. Personally, I’m in no hurry to see a new face on our banknotes. There’s probably a joke in there somewhere about change (ho ho), but for now I’ll just wish you an enjoyable Platinum Holiday – another chapter of Hawkesbury history in the making.