Tales from the Vale

The old railway line in Stalbridge … | Tales from the Vale

My last column mentioned the old railway line in Stalbridge which, before the Beeching cuts, had a level crossing to stop traffic on each side of the line when a train was due.

There’s a story of a villager seeing that one gate was open on one side of the track and the opposite gate closed. The station master explained, ‘we’re half expecting a train.’

***

Well, I’d just made that up, but this is true.  In my last column I mentioned the farmer’s son whose father did not recognize that the posh huntsman, who he gave invaluable, though earthy, advice to, was actually Prince Charles.

The farmer’s son, my best mate at junior school, was overwhelmed when, a few years later, his father and mother invited him into the kitchen to attend an important meeting with them. The son knew it was important because his father had put down The Racing Post.

‘Son, we’re going to invite you into the partnership of the farm,’ they said, and offered him a small but important stake in the business.

‘We think it time that you took on greater responsibilities,’ the parents explained.

A few days later, the postie delivered a bank statement.

 ‘You’d better look at this now that you’re a partner,’ said father, passing over the statement.

The son, who knew little about business affairs, was impressed to see that the account read £11,321.

But there was something he didn’t understand.

‘What does OD mean?’ he asked, helpfully adding, ‘they’ve written it in red.’

***

A beam of pleasure punctured those final dismal lockdown days. I was in Dike’s, in Stalbridge, on the search for coconut milk powder (yes, it was essential travel, because I planned a Thai curry for the evening’s feast, and no reader could argue with that, surely).

I asked a pleasant and helpful assistant, who said, ‘If we’ve got some, it’ll be by the desecrated coconut’.  I was going to respond with, ‘that sounds grave’, but if I had, she may have asked, ‘why’, and I would have had to explain that maybe she meant desiccated, and she was so sweet that I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. But my mum was delighted by this exchange when I phoned her that evening.

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Compare and contrast with the attitude of Harts of Stur, where we next went (quite the day out for us) for wine glasses (the sheer use ours endure means they wear out quickly).

Harts, pleasantly and apologetically, explained that they couldn’t sell us any as they were not deemed essential.  Wine not essential. C’mon! So I bought some chive seeds and compost instead.  However, a few days later they said if we ordered some they’d have them ready on our arrival – so, disaster averted.

***

Nice story in the Stur Facebook. Bloke cycled into town, leant his bike against a wall and went in to buy a paper.  He found a group of youths around his bike and thought, ‘trouble’.  It was anything but. The youngsters were generous in their admiration of the bike and bombarded him with polite and intelligent questions, then they went for a ride together.

The bloke later went on FB to praise the youths’ parents for bringing up such well-mannered children.

Good to see people in pubs, the charity shops open, along with the florists and hairdressers in Stur. Ref hairdressers, my favourite response to, ‘how would you like your hair cut?’ is, ‘in silence’.

We went for an alfresco pint at The Antelope in Hazlebury Bryan, which has great real ales such as Exmoor Gold and Tribute from the St Austell brewery.  When I asked the manageress for a Tribute, she said, ‘Nice jacket, Andy’. 

I’ve been missing those everyday social exchanges.

***

I’ve noticed that property companies selling houses in Stalbridge quite rightly refer to Dorset’s smallest town (although it really is Dorset’s biggest village) as ‘pretty’, and they extoll its virtues, ‘with post office, butchers and a pharmacy,’ but no mention of Dike’s. I’d have thought having an excellent family-run supermarket within walking distance, a selling point.

When is a village a town?

To save you Googling it, a village has a ‘few shops, a post office, and a primary school (no mention of church)’. A town ‘is bigger, with a primary and a secondary school and sometimes a railway station’. 

Obviously, these guidelines are drawn up by The Temperance Society, as no mention is made of pubs.  Pubs are an incredible community asset. Most people met their partner in a pub. I, among millions of people, dearly hope that village pubs will survive. My local, The Antelope in Hazlebury Bryan, rigorously applied every Government guideline, at great cost, and I cannot see why it had to close.

As Joni Mitchell sang, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’.

***

On the topic of singer/philosophers: what will life be like after Covid?

I am confident and optimistic that it’s going to be great.  Look how quickly our economy recovered after the 2008 crash. The US main stockmarket, Dow Jones, hit a record high three months ago, actually during lockdown, as did many Asian markets. The cost of oil and borrowing is low, but above all I think of the ingenuity and entrepreneurialism of normal people. Look how they’ve adapted to build other elements of their businesses, pubs doing take-aways is a clear example.

But, above all, I’m thinking of Government spending. The Treasury has got into the habit of thinking big, and I believe we’re going to get a sort of New Deal, to pump money into the economy, with new schools, hospitals and other community assets.

Now, I did three years’ hard labour studying economics at university, but the best comment on macro-economics I’ve heard, came from ‘Professor’ Noddy Holder (BSc Econ, Wolverhampton University) the main bellower of the 70s pop group Slade, who said of the 2008 crash (and it is applicable to high Government spending and borrowing with Covid). 

In a brief lecture delivered on the TV program, HIGNFY, he said, ‘the money that the Government borrows doesn’t really exist, so we never had it in the first place. I don’t know what we’re worrying about’.

Every Government has been ‘borrowing’ billions from the IMF, which has lent around $28 trillion (coincidentally, the GNP of the US) during this crisis.  The IMF’s own vaults contain only $4.4 billion of gold, therefore it has lent fictitious money, as Professor Noddy pointed out. So, I say, why doesn’t the IMF just wipe the global slate clean. Every nation will be on an equal footing. We can start again. Until the next crisis.

I’m just glad that Covid cannot spread to animals and birds. We’d really be buggered, then.

***

Which reminds me of a funny from a few years ago: my brother Tim has a mate, Mike, very amiable, but not the brightest (think of Trigger, in Only Fools and Horses). 

Over a pint, Tim mentioned that three horses were killed at a race meeting (they had to be put down).

‘Bird Flu?’ asked Mike.

‘Mike, they’re horses,’ explained Tim.

‘Al Qaida?’ asked Mike.

‘Mike, Osama bin Laden may be barking, but I don’t think even he believes that nobbling the 3.15 at Chepstow will bring down Western Civilisation.’

‘Did they just die, then,’ asked Mike.

Tim, thinking this conversation had run its course, said, ‘yes, Mike. They just died’.

‘Sad,’ Mike said, ‘I like horses’.

***

The first Sherborne Sunday market of the year was a jolly affair.  A bright, cloudless day, lots of attractive stalls. I’d say half of the customers wore face-masks. One bloke who didn’t sneezed heavily, without covering his mouth, as I went past (he’s on the list) so ‘thanks for that, mate’.

***

I’m missing the local festivals. Shaftsbury Food Fair is a particular high point for me, and I’m missing local music festivals like the one at Warren Farm up by Bulbarrow. I was going to give you a tip, which is to get there an hour after they open so you don’t have to listen to the ukulele orchestra.  But that’s unfair. Joining a uke band gives great pleasure to a lot of people and a lot of big bands, eg The Staves, use the uke to write beautiful haunting songs.

My only question is that if you can master the uke you can certainly master the guitar which, apart from being easier to learn, has two more strings and is more versatile with a better sound.  I won’t fret about it, though.

But Stur’s cheese fair is going ahead this September (at the time of writing) which is great.  Things can only get feta.  They may well have the local band, The Sturminstrels, who do a lot of Beatles songs, such as Let It Brie.

(I’m interested to see if the Editor allows these painful puns in her wonderful glossy mag).  

Andy Palmer

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