The Easter weekend in a Dorset village begins with hot cross buns

DSC08301The vicar turns up, carrying a large and rugged wooden cross. She puts it into the cupboard, which is already stuffed with coats, bags, a fluorescent jacket and a toddler’s scooter, and makes her entrance into a busy hall.

It’s Good Friday and the sun is shining. It’ll be the best weather of the whole Easter weekend and the villagers are cheery, smiling, and there’s that feeling of happy expectation about the four days ahead.

We’re far from the madding crowd here. The community shop will be busy but not half as unpleasant as the town supermarkets which have become the new religion to so many families, with premises taking on the look of temples. Temples of Mammon.

It’s also Lady Day, a once significant quarter day in the tenant farmer’s calendar, when farms changed hands and annual rent was due.

Here in the hall, they’re serving hot cross buns, an annual event to raise money for the village fete later in the year. This summer, there’ll be big celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday. Part of the street will be closed, there’ll be tables and chairs dotted around, a long table filled with food brought to share and a large lorry in the square, set up for live music.

Back in the here and now, people in their Friday best (one man in a natty striped blazer, women with soft, pastel scarves and painted nails) turn up from the morning service to grab a bun, a tea or coffee and a natter with fellow villagers who have given church a miss. We are all friends here.

Farmers, retired policemen, administrators, retired baker, postman, photographer, journalist, company director, advertising executive, librarian, teaching assistant, teacher, bed and breakfast proprietor, engineer, leisure centre receptionist, bellringers, choir, churchgoers, vicar, estate agent, publican, archaeologist, furniture store owner. The list goes on.

It’s time for the raffle.

The archaeologist wins liquid soap (good for fingernails that delve into soil for a living) and his wife wins a box of chocolates.

“We’ll be having an indulgent evening in now,” the archaeologist says, with a knowing smile. Soap and chocolates. What a winning combination.

Nathalie, the photographer, wins some exotic hand cream and I don’t win anything, despite spending a fiver on tickets.

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Time for reflection as Dorset prepares for Easter

Spring is springing out all over.

Through the night and in the early hours, there is frost on the ground until the mid-morning sun sends its beams down to melt it all away.

There are jackdaws hedging bets on who will be the first one down next door’s chimney, the village pub has splashed out on two small tables and chairs in a new, improved frontage and the nights are getting lighter – much lighter.

Lawns are being mowed in preparation for Easter egg hunts, little lambs are skipping around unaware of the fate of their bigger brothers and sisters (especially those from New Zealand whose legs are cheap and dead in Lidls) and children are getting very excited at the prospect of a couple of weeks off.

Farmers who have not turned to the dark side of massive, indoor cow units (where is the nature and compassion in that insidious and little-heard aspect of modern farming?) are getting ready to turn their cattle out into the pastures for the spring and summer.

Down at the Bay, seasonal seafarers are thinking about getting their boats in the water and award-winning restaurants are opening for business. Stately homes are gearing up for a tourist invasion.

It’s a time of celebration and reflection, partly because that’s what Nathalie’s photos illustrate this week.

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Spring arrives, along with the lambs, daffodils and toads

It’s still chilly in the shadows, but there is a beautiful warmth to the air on the sunny side of the field and under glass.

Pussy willow bursts from bare branches and daffodils dazzle in the afternoon sunshine. The air is ripe with farmyard smells as dung spreaders towed by tractors trundle through the village.

“It’s a good job no-one was walking along the pavement by the school,” one elderly woman told me last week. “The dung spreader was switched on and it went everywhere.”

She points to some muck on the pavement, but I think this might just be a tall story. If the dung spreader had been operational, the muck would have covered more than the path. It would have landed on the window of the community shop with a thwack, the poor volunteers and manager peering out through a brown-green haze.

It didn’t happen, but, already, I am imaging that it did. I can see bespectacled villages wiping their glasses, Captain Mainwaring-style, and looking up bewildered as the tractor and dung spreader go on oblivious, the farmer in headphones and listening to hip hop.

Rooks are making early morning calls as their weight wobbles the tree next door. They’re stuck on a party line and screaming at each other to put the phone down. God, that analogy dates me.

In another garden, the far more melodic song of a robin fills the air with sweetness.

In some of the fields, lambs are being born to ewes who have never before given birth but have the air of creatures who’ve done this sort of thing all their lives. There is frost on the grass, steam flowing skywards from village roofs as the central heating comes on and gossamer cobwebs spanning out like outstretched fingers in the undergrowth.

And on the outskirts of the village, this lovely Dorset village tucked into the fold of the county’s two highest hills, the toads are preparing for their great migration, returning to the ponds, where they drew their first breaths through their skin, to lay their spawn.

Go steady. There could be a toad crossing. 

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Marching in like a lion and out like a lamb

The wind roars through the trees as if it’s playing kiss chase with the rain.

It billows and buffets, swooping and whirling through the branches. The air is bitterly cold on my hands and face and I wish I’d come out with gloves and a hat.

After the rain will come sunshine, the weathermen say, at least in the south east. But who in Dorset cares about the south east? This is the westcountry, the stand-alone south west.

And, according to all sources, the street is not the place to go. Stay inside, stay inside, the wind says. And let’s hope the roof tiles don’t fly off any time soon.

And a very happy birthday to the village shop

The old telephone exchange nudges up to a couple of houses and the primary school playing field, just off the centre of the village.

This is where our award-winning shop is tucked away. It’s doing a roaring trade despite its tiny floor space.

From tomato puree to fresh meat and shoelaces to tights, the community stores has all kinds of everything on its shelves and a range of services.

In the past twelve months,  PayPoint has been introduced so customers can pay their utility bills, top-up pre-payment keys and mobile phones.

Run by an army of volunteers, corralled by the manager and his assistant, the shop is a treasure trove, a shining beacon of triumph over adversity. This is the place that opened three years ago when all hope of resurrecting our defunct shop in the village square crashed and burned.

It’s all thanks to some quick work by locals and support of organisations such as The Plunkett Foundation who say: “Community shops are sustainable, democratic forms of businesses that succeed where commercial ventures have failed.

“In a climate that sees around four hundred commercial village shops close each year, community-owned shops not only represent a better form of business, they directly respond to some of the key challenges facing rural communities today like lack of services and isolation.”

I make no apology if this sounds like an advert for community enterprise because our village shop (and all who sail in her) is just brilliant. This Saturday, the shop celebrates its third birthday.

It’s not only convenient having a shop just down the road, it also boosts house prices, which is great if you want to sell although not so good if you want to buy. Community living comes at a price.

Shops and pubs, churches, schools and village halls are at the centre of rural life. Long may it continue.

Thanks to photographer Nathalie, who is a volunteer at the shop, for the photos.

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