KENT, UK SEPTEMBER 2007

 

The village has changed. Not so much that you can’t recognise it, but the social lines have changed and yet in a funny way stayed the same. The Swan is still a pub – but now a gastro pub, where the diners are from nearby Kings Hill celebrating birthdays, while the regulars sit outside and create the suitable pub ambience without really trying, so the diners feel relaxed. Whereas 20 years ago most of the regulars were farm labourers (really) now most are Public Relations executives, or copy writers or software writers (really). Families who grew up in the village as tractor drivers are now mobile middle class owning or aspiring to own property in Spain or similar. The big houses are owned by successful bankers or consultants – not much change there, but there are more of them, although they still tend to keep themselves to themselves and keep fit at the new gym at Kings Hill. There are a few people who are struggling, but not many and they are cared for because everyone knows that there but for the grace of god (or chance) go we. Alcoholism is an issue, so is cancer, but the youth of the village thrives in the job creation unit that is the Swan. They threaten to derail with drugs or undesirables but then lurch into serving pub meals and suddenly they pass the exams and go off to University. The older generation is dying and disappearing and the few left are losing their memory, but the village dignifies them in memory, asking after them even after they have retreated into their rooms. The farmers develop yet more barns, even temporary structures of corrugated iron become offices, so the world impacts on the village but because it is still a cul de sac (lovely expression) cars only come to West Peckham for a purpose usually the pub or to visit friends so we remain apart, quiet tranquil except for the strimmers of community service keeping the churchyard in order. The squirrels bury nuts, the doves flock round the church, I even saw a wren today tiny bundle nudging under hedges. The clouds lend grandeur to the light even if they negate the idea of summer – just enjoy what you can see and if you work outside long enough you will get a tan better than the Med, deeper too – but the workers are Polish now, or Ukrainian, picking fruit to go to supermarkets who pay only a tiny fraction of the price they charge to the consumer, and Harry the remaining farmer looks stressed as he rushes in his 10 year old car on some business. The other ex farmers now develop property. Still Martina the barmaid is from Slovakia, and the village fete raises 5000 pounds to keep the church standing and the Village Hall. Cricket on the Green is every other Sunday starting at about 2.30 and finishing at 7,  before the suns rays slant too far down the green for spectators at the  Swan to avoid the boundary hits and the game ends. There is an ad hoc party every evening at the Swan, come as you are, sit outside so the smokers can enjoy a legal self rolled cigarette, and wonder what they will do in winter when the west wind freezes even the panes of glass, and made central heating in the pub such a change. Probably a city street could boast of such characters, but probably not with the depth of country belonging, which even the software designer can claim in this little part of England that charts its own way through the rocks of change.

 

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