Tales from the Vale

Why is Hardy so popular?

A lot of locals revere the writer Thomas Hardy. 

I hate to be a party pooper but he’s just that little bit miserable and misogynistic for me. And his take on human nature is dubious, even by the standards of a 19th century male novelist with a drooping moustache and an unhappy marriage.  

I got a collection of his short stories from a Stur charity shop The Emporium (for books, CDs and DVDs the price is £1 for four, they’re £1.99 each in some Sherborne charities.)

As a catalogue of misery Hardy’s tales are hard to beat.

The first tale is called ‘The Withered Hand,’ so you can see the laugh out loud jollity contained.

And take the full-length novel, Tess of the d’urbervilles.

The story? Tess has, you’ve guessed it, a bad time, being seduced by an upper class bounder, cad and ocean-going rotter, Alec, with whom she bears a daughter which, naturally, she names Sorrow (later lamented in a 1960s song written by The Merseybeats, not David Bowie as I used to think).  Sorrow dies (why am I not surprised). Tess falls in love with her wimp of a beau, Angel Clare, who knows nothing about her previous life and child. Marriage is discussed (alarm bells, a danger of happiness. Don’t worry, Thom’s got it all planned.)

So, Tess writes a confessional letter, asking the wimp for forgiveness, hoping he won’t mind her ‘shame’ and slips it under his bedroom door. The author being Hardy, the note goes under the rug. Angel doesn’t see it, which suggests lax housekeeping in the Angel household.  What does that housemaid do all day?

Thinking he read the letter and is pardoned (obviously she doesn’t ever say, ‘did you get my ….erm note, Ange?) they get married. Angel tells Tess of an affair he had (good one, Angel, wait ‘till you’re married). Tess forgives him, and mentions her indiscretion. Being a man (who’s had an affair) Angel is horrified and despite previous reassurances of undying devotion, hands her some money (all heart) and sails for Brazil as a sort of ‘sod you’ gesture – why he couldn’t move to Wiltshire or Devon, Yeovil, even, is a mystery.  Actually, maybe Yeovil isn’t on.

Result, a further life of misery for poor Tess (she’s gone back to the rapist Alec, would she really do that, Thom?) which is not helpfully ended by her swinging at the gibbet for murdering him, after a search party finds her asleep at Stonehenge (laughably, really, it’s the first place they’d look.)  

Thanks, Thom. Another riveting, uplifting read.

Let’s look at another of Hardy’s ‘celebrated’ novels, The Mayor of Casterbridge. This story, you won’t be surprised to learn, hinges again on letters going awry, in this case by disgraced ex-mayor Michael Henchard returning incriminating old love letters to his ex-flame, Lucetta, now the shiny new wife of the new mayor, Donald Farfrae (he’s Scottish, you’ll note.)

How does Henchard convey these explosive letters to Lucetta in a way that ensures her sordid past will never be known, so that she and McDonnie (he’s still Scottish) enjoy marital bliss and a public aura of spotless virtue?

Logic again suggests Henchard perhaps, just perhaps, should personally put the incriminating parcel directly into the hands of Lucetta.

But no. That’s too sensible. It’s not Thom’s way.  There’s a danger of a happy ending.

Henchard, although now unemployed and idle, is ‘too busy’ to do this (obviously he’s playing Grand Theft Oxen-Drawn Haycart V), so he hands them over to a known wretch, Jopp, who Henchard himself continually belittled, then fired, and therefore might, just might, have a grudge against Henchard.

Result, Jopp takes the parcel down the pub, probably Ye Olde Wetherspoons, hands them around and, despite literacy at the time being negligible for such people, everyone has a good read (pointing out grammatical errors, problems with syntax, laughable tautological blunders) and the disgraced Henchard ends-up dying in a hovel (it is stressed that it’s not a palace) on Egdon Heath (this is pre-solar farm Egdon Heath).

So, for me, while interesting for its historical sociological points, Hardy don’t cut the mustard as literature. I don’t care if it’s artisanal mustard lovingly hand-made and sold at a function in Mappowder village hall, but he don’t cut it.  And he could have cheered up a bit.

Further academic notes on great novels that’ll help students sail through GCSEs are available on application from Tales from the Vale University Audiobooks (Copyright.)

Burglars’ greatest friend – FaceBook

I do wonder at the sanity of my brother and sister. 

They’ve just posted pix of their families on FaceBook, telling the world that they’re enjoying a week’s camping and, to prove it, they’ve included photos showing them having ‘a really good time,’ as if anyone’s interested.

Which is great…for burglars. Our light-fingered brethren will now know they can leisurely ransack their homes – it doesn’t take a fiendishly clever Bond villain (stroking a white cat inside a hollow volcano) to find out their addresses. My siblings may as well put up a neon sign outside their homes saying, ‘Empty House – burgle at your leisure.’

Although, knowing the general state of Lucy’s house the burglars would probably force the door, take one look around and believe it’s already been turned over, then move on to Tim’s which, if anything, is worse.

Why you should join the village hall committee

We’ve had some great events at our village hall that the whole community thoroughly enjoyed. The village quiz – £10 a ticket – which includes a super large portion of fish & chips – is always a sell-out.

It’s surprising the talent that’s available in every village and hamlet in Dorset. One couple, with a background in hospitality, who recently moved into the village, offered to provide, at cost, a range of excellent curries for an evening (included in the £10 ticket). We didn’t have enough plates for the 65 or so people we’re allowed for each event so we used paper plates.

We hadn’t thought it through: the bottom of the curry-laden plates began to disintegrate, so everybody suddenly had to eat faster to stop an avalanche of chicken korma engulfing our laps, which caused vast amusement. The attending children, after a lifetime of entreaties by parents of ‘don’t bolt your food’, were delighted to be urged to ‘bolt your food.’

For MacMillan Cancer Support, the committee, with non-committee volunteers, provided a delicious cream tea/cake event which was massively attended. And this was a proper cream tea – committee members went to Craig’s Diary outside Weymouth to pick up two huge trays of proper clotted cream.

This was a revelation to me. I’d never really got this cream tea malarkey, wondered what the fuss was all about.

It dawned on me, after wolfing a home-made scone (pronounced ‘sconn’ not ‘scoane,’ as in ‘Sloane’) topped with locally-made jam and clotted cream, that I’d been missing out for years. Now, wherever I see ‘cream tea,’ I’m in there.

Our jumble sales, too, are fun (never thought I’d write a sentence like that). I always staff the bric-a-brac stall and among the ‘goods’ ranging from ‘interesting’ to ‘total crap’ (someone generously donated a used loofah? ‘We’ll start at 200 guineas, do I have any bids? 250 to the man in the bicycle clips’) were some real gems, including 1950s metal Dinky cars, trucks, trains and military vehicles. On a recent Antiques Road Show, a small collection of similar toys went for a few hundred quid. At our sale, I was selling them for a quid each – wish I’d watched the programme beforehand – I’d be able to buy a used loofah.

And we have fun with the punters: a young lady, with heavy irony, asked me the provenance of a dubious ‘Chinese’ vase.

‘It’s genuine 15th Century Ming Dynasty,’ I replied, adding, ‘and it comes with a certificate of authenticity.’

‘Can I see the certificate,’ she smiled.

Grabbing pen and paper, I wrote ‘this vase is almost definitely, probably genuine-ish Ming-ish style dysentery and could, possibly, easily be worth the £1 we’re charging. Sort of.’

‘Well, as it’s got a ‘genuine-ish’ certificate, it’s a bargain-ish,’ she said, ‘I’ll take it.’  

‘Do you think I’ve got a future as an art forger,’ I asked, wrapping the priceless ceramic in newspaper and tossing it over the table to her.

‘No,’ she said.

At the same session we had some old artefact which attracted no interest until a chap, slowly and carefully examining it, asked the price.

‘Fifty pence,’ I said.

He smiled, ‘that’s a bit steep.’

‘You misunderstand,’ I said, ‘I’ll give you 50p to take it away, I’m sick of looking at it.’ 

He laughed and gave me £1.

Now, I’ve flogged our unwanted stuff at enough boot sales to know that, whatever nominal price you put on an item, every time you ask what a potential buyer is prepared to pay for it, they usually offer more than what you had in mind.  And the same happened at my stall.

So, it’s great fun.

Malteaser Cake made by Tony – Image Andy Palmer

There’s an invariable pattern about events. Everything that can go wrong tends to go wrong beforehand. We anticipate the chip van phoning two weeks before saying, ‘sorry, double booking’ (which they’ll have known for months.)  A week before, we’re surprised if the electrics don’t go on the blink. Part of the ceiling collapsing the night before brings a hearty cheer for its inevitability. We’d be disappointed if a ravening yaw appeared where the floor was, due to medieval mining causing subsidence.  We look forward to the plumbing failure in the ladies’ loos, and a compensatory colossal leak in the men’s will bring a round of applause.

But magically, it always, always, comes together on the day. It’s all hands to the pump and we’re British: we rally.  Non-committee members, plumbers, joiners, roofers, friends of friends, nuclear scientists, internationally renowned heart surgeons suddenly appear offering their services. Jeff Bezos turned up once to offer some change for the cash float.  Helping with the drying-up was Queen Maxima of The Netherlands.

And the most wonderful thing is the transformation of the village hall from a soulless interior to a bustling environment decorated with bunting and beautifully arranged flowers, usually from Peggy and Natalie on the committee. We’ll be inundated with smiling volunteers working and laughing in the kitchen serving up home-made cakes, clearing tables. In fact, such is the supply of cakes from the village, there’s always a few whole ones left over, so these are raffled by our village hall stalwart, Lizzie, a professional story teller and all round good egg.  

And the cakes! All the cakes are fantastic, but one show-stopper was made by Tony, a bluff Geordie whose creation was a Malteser Cascade Cake, with an upturned packet propped six inches above the cake by a pile of Maltesers flowing over the cake. It’s a work of art. He’s a northern man – I’d presumed he didn’t know where the kitchen was in his house!

But all village hall committees need new people with new ideas and it’s interesting to be involved, especially if you’re a newcomer. Details of committee members are usually on every village notice board and they’ll welcome you with open arms.

Huge solar farm planned for the vale

The authorities are considering allowing 190 acres of beautiful and fertile north Dorset farm land between Mappowder and Hazlebury Bryan to be turned into a solar farm.

How they equate this with helping local businesses reliant on environmental tourism will have to be explained, especially as all renewable energy for homes is expected to be provided by off-shore wind turbines.

I’m not against solar farms but surely less productive and valuable land, which won’t impact on people and businesses, is available.  One instance is the eerie stretch of unpopulated heath near East Knighton, north of the A352 in east Dorset.  This bleak landscape is known in Hardy’s novels as Egdon Heath.

By: Andy Palmer

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