Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

At midday, what must have been more or less the entire village gathered around the steps of the village hall (1952) to raise a flute of champagne to Her Majesty, give three ragged cheers, and sing the National Anthem.

Then we were herded into the adjacent parish church car park for the parish Diamond Jubilee commemorative photograph. An unforgettable scene: nearly 300 villagers of sober and regular habits, mostly; our minds elevated by a sense of historic occasion, and champagne, and the sight of neighbours not seen for years, or presumed dead; all of us jabbering excitedly, and totally ignoring the poor photographer, who was making increasingly epic gestures with both arms, exhorting us to close up in the middle to allow late arrivals to insinuate themselves into the picture from the outer edges.

After about ten minutes it was noticed that he had got his picture and was now dismantling his tripod. Still catching up on births, deaths and marriages, we moved across, en masse, to the Union Jack-draped tables lined in the road, and piled into a mountain of party food. It is one thing to live quietly in a village for years, slowly accumulating acquaintances; it is quite another to sit at street tables with the entire population scoffing home-made quiches and sausages on sticks. I sat among elderly folk and thought I detected a melancholy air, owing to the occasion marking a drawing to a close, in their view, as well as a celebration.

In the evening, festivities continued in a farmer's field with a pig roast and barbeque, country dancing, a bonfire, the lighting of a beacon, and a disco. A makeshift bar was set up in a barn. There was a long queue for the bar when I arrived, and the volunteer manning it, a teetotal prison officer of great energy and public spirit, who for many years spearheaded a specialist team of officers dedicated to quelling prison riots, was going flat out. Martin is one of those imperturbable characters whose imperturbability probably only deepens in battle. This evening, however, he looked dismayed. He was pouring lager into a plastic glass with one hand and accepting coins with the other, then frantically bobbing and bending for a lemonade bottle under the table. 'Can I help?' I said.

He looked up at me from shin height, sideways, like a contortionist interrupted in the middle of his act, and rolled his eyes and head together, as if it were the silliest question he'd heard in his life. …

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