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An English Village - Martin Wainwright

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The English Village by Martin Wainwright

Michael O'Mara Books 2011

 

Warm, charming, quintessentially English, rambling, full of colour - Martin Wainwright is all these and more which is why The English Village is such a delightful book to read.

 

This is not a historical reference book - how could it be at just 192 pages - and makes only a vague attempt to mention all aspects of villages and village life from their origins to the present day. Rather Mr Wainwright - Northern Editor of The Guardian - dips into the subject like a kid in Mrs Miggin's sweet shop and picks out some of the brighter and tastier bits of trivia. If anything, an attempt to impose a structure on this book forces Mr Wainwright to talk at too much length about some of the duller aspects of village life and the reader welcomes his return to the fireside-chat style at which the author excels.

 

There are also some laugh out loud moments:

 

"...or at Mavis Enderby in Lincolnshire, whose shared sign with a neighbouring village is often converted by wags to read: 'To Old Bolingbroke and Mavis Enderby - the gift of a son'."

 

But for the most part this is a book which will just keep you smiling. He takes a look at the role of the church, of festivals, of horticulture, of architecture and of the pub - but can't resist wandering off down Trivia Lane when the fancy takes him. And these meanderings down't lonnin are the best parts of the book. Here he muses on the truth behind the romantic image of the village and its possible soundtrack:

 

"Sentimental paintings of rosy-cheeked maidens at the gates of their cottages, which do indeed tend to have Jane Austen's green-painted shutters and hollyhocks abounding in their gardens, should really be studied with a soundtrack of terminal coughing from a tuberculosis victim indoors, and a scratch-and-sniff facility to release the stink of ordure, rotting food and drains."

 

Passing references to hollyhocks, community-run pubs and English 'model villages' abroad only whet the reader's appetite to explore further the many aspects of the English village.

 

The brevity of the book reflects the wide-angle lens approach to the subject with the occasional zooming in on the strange or charming side of English village life an echo of Mr Wainwright's Guardian-sized features on said topics. The only frustration is a feeling at the end of the book that we haven't really stayed long enough in one place to fully get to know the nooks, crannies and characters which really go to make up the English village.

 

I can't help thinking back to my home village: Old Bilton, near Rugby in Warwickshire. I can instantly recall so many aspects of the village life that Mr Wainwright barely touches on (if at all): The sweet shop, the village green, the post office, the shops and shopkeepers, the ghosts, the tragedies, the legends of hidden treasure, the pranks, the buttercross, the village characters, the Derby and Joan club, the schools, Magnet Lane, Old Tom, bonfire night, New Year's Eve - and so it goes on.

 

It's of no matter. It's the title of the book that's not quite right rather than the content or the way it's written ('Aspects of an English Village' might have been better). I just hope it's not too long before Mr Wainwright publishes a sequel: Old Bilton - An English Village might be a good one.

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