26 MAY 2007, Page 61

Community spirit

Roy Hattersley

Last weekend Arcadia was en fête. The annual flower festival in the church was, as always, quietly dignified and demonstrated both the artistic ingenuity and the biblical knowledge of the 16 parishioners who designed the arrangements. One illustrated Psalm 121 with purple flowers chosen for their shape and colour. This week we are particularly happy to lift up our eyes to the hills. A public inquiry has reduced, though not completely eliminated, the risk of them being quarried away and used as motorway repair aggregate. The festival programme invited visitors to take tea in the village hall — except on Saturday the 19th, when hospitality was provided in the vicarage. On that day the village hall was host to a festival of its own. The original building, intact though extended in 1996, was celebrating its centenary.

There was free champagne, provided courtesy of the hall committee, and a birthday cake which — thanks to technology that the founding fathers could never have imagined — had a picture of the village, circa 1907, on its icing. It was cut at noon in front of a packed audience, among whom it was then distributed in delicate slices. I had arrived in good time, but the seats were all taken and I had to watch the proceedings from a crush by the door, which included the chairman. He was wearing a tail coat, double-breasted waistcoat and striped trousers. For one ghastly moment I feared that he always dressed that way when officiating in the billiard room or acting as MC at whist drives. But, mercifully, it turned out that the whole committee had hired Edwardian costumes. One of the lady members — who was brought up in the same village as me seemed offended when I suggested that such clothes were common when she was a Girl Guide and I was a Boy Scout.

The cake being cut and mostly eaten, the film shows — which were to continue throughout the day — began. For ten years a cine enthusiast has recorded everything of consequence (and some things that were not) within the village. I cannot explain why, but pictures of sports days ten years before I moved in — confirmed my feeling that I was, and wanted to remain, deeply implanted in the life of this community. It increased my bewilderment that half a dozen families live here but apparently feel no urge to integrate and only see the village as they drive through. This is a great place just to be, but it is an even better place to be part of.

I walked home with a little girl who, a couple of yards ahead of her father, was hot on the treasure-hunt trail. I last saw her sitting in the church porch looking after her dog, which was tied to the foot scraper, while the senior members of her family visited the flower festival. In 40 years’ time, I thought, she might watch the 2050 equivalent of the film show which I had just seen. If the village survives so long, I hope that the record of the next half century confirms the message about our village life that was illustrated by the faded photographs and accounts of great events which were pinned to the walls of the village hall meeting room.

The picture of the actual opening illustrated, by the wide range of men’s hats on view, that we have always represented a complete cross section of the nation. In 1912 the cloth caps and Homburg hats of the rifle club combined to demand a refund of at least part of the two and sixpence they had paid to hire the hall for a dance. The piano needed tuning. In 1914 the hall was used by one Captain Swann as a recruiting centre, and in 1920 the recently emancipated ladies of the village organised lectures on women’s health. Happily, the warning that it might be requisitioned for use as a mortuary — sent by the Home Office in 1940 — proved to be what, in those days, was called a false alarm. Our story is England’s story and it was well worth celebrating.

© Roy Hattersley, 2007