Time was when I might have named the families living in every house; well, in the ordinary houses anyway, it was hard to know the people in the big houses, they had little interest in schoolboys on bicycles. Little seemed to change, though it, of course, did; it was just that when you are a child, time lasts very much longer.
There was nothing remarkable about the area. With the exception of one town, now world famous for its pop festival, few people would have heard of most of the places. “Undulating lowland”, the geography teacher called it. Some of the undulations were steeper than the picture of gentle rises and falls might suggest, particularly when pushing bike up them, but it was a fair description. Much of the countryside around had been under water until the reclaiming of the levels; the county’s name derives from the fact that it literally was “summer lands”.
No-one famous had ever come from our village; no-one famous had lived in our village; being honest, it was hard to think of anything significant that had ever happened there. If somewhere could have been noteworthy for nothing ever having happened, then we would be well-known.
A village green laid out in the saltire pattern of the flag of Saint Andrew, the patron of the parish church, was crossed by the nearest thing we had to a main road, though even it did not manage the status of a ‘B’ designation. The level of traffic was sufficiently low to allow racing one’s bicycle around the corner without fear of collision.
Travelling through darkness and rain, the season could have been any. Were it not for cars along the roadside, the time could have been any in the last thirty years. ‘Unchanging’ hardly expresses the continuity of the place.
Perhaps it’s being unchanging, unremarkable, undulating, that gives somewhere an English quality. These are the people who go to work every day, paying the taxes that allow the Government its adventures; these are the custodians of the landscape that is passed from generation to generation. It is these small, anonymous, and unremarkable places that provided the soldiers for generations of wars. The 2001 Census showed the claims that Britain had been overwhelmed by a wave of immigration were unfounded – 93% of the population were still from the peoples who had been in the land for centuries.
The village, and its innumerable counterparts across the shires, provide Chesterton’s people of England (though even Chesterton would have been viewed with suspicion in our village). Unmoved in generations, it is their capacity to cope with every circumstance that allowed the most stable political regime in the world – a country not invaded in nine hundred years, a country without a revolution in more than three hundred.
The people behind the curtained windows on a wet July night should not be underestimated.