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July 4, 2012 / annakpf11

Field Notes from Long Barn

“Starting here, what do you want to remember? … Will you ever bring a better gift for the world than the breathing respect that you carry wherever you go right now?”

William Stafford (1914—1993), excerpted from “You Reading This, Be Ready”

A few early observations of life in a small village in the English countryside:

1. People “Pop Round.” Face-to-face visits are preferable to calling someone on the phone. Almost daily, a knock at the door of Long Barn heralds the arrival of a neighbor come to offer information, bring a gift of homemade jam, inquire whether I’ll be attending the next Women’s Institute meeting, or just to say hello.

2. Offering Tea is the Right Thing to Do. No matter who arrives—the next door neighbor, the workman come to replace the broken window, the exterminator to eradicate the wasp nest found in the garage, the gardener to mow the lawn—an offer of tea and biscuits will be gladly accepted. Almost expected, in the friendliest sort of way.

3. Strangers Wave at Each Other. The country lanes are so narrow that vehicles are always pulling over to let oncoming traffic by, at which point the drivers exchange a wave to acknowledge the courtesy. So very polite and civilized.

4. Dryers are Rare. Despite the damp climate, people routinely hang their washing to dry. At first I was skeptical that clothes would ever progress beyond damp, but they do. Now, one of my greatest and simplest pleasures is walking out into the garden with a basket of clean laundry and pinning shirts, sheets and towels onto the line. If there’s no sun, the wind is sure to dry them, and even if it rains, everything eventually dries out.

5. Wimbledon is Important. Everyone knows about it, everyone cares about it, and everyone can attend. Advance tickets are sold out long in advance, but anyone can queue up and gain entry to the grounds and a chance to buy inexpensive resale tickets. Which we did! On the first day of play, 2012.

6. Fresh Eggs are Prized. And they are not refrigerated. Even in grocery stores, they’re just sitting there in cardboard cartons. The best eggs I’ve ever tasted are available from a large plastic tub outside our neighbor’s house on the village green. Lift the lid, deposit coins in the dish and take as many eggs as you’ve paid for.

7. The Honor System is Alive and Well. As with buying farm eggs, so it is at the grocery store. A hand-held electronic scanner allows you to scan each item as it goes into your basket and then check out without a human ever verifying your purchases.

8. Gardening and Flower Arranging are National Pastimes. I’m doing plenty of both. My latest endeavor is a kitchen herb garden. I’ve always wanted one, just never had the right patch of ground before. Now I have a fine selection of fresh herbs at my fingertips.

9. British English is a Foreign Language. I remain mystified by the helpful M40 road sign alerting me that “Spray Is Possible.” And I’ve yet to see a large-billed sea bird crossing the road at a “Humped Pelican Crossing.”

10. Weekends are for Walking. Dave and I have happily joined the ranks of people of all ages, shapes and sizes who, rain or shine (and we’re having a lot of the former), don hiking boots and plastic coated map pouches and explore the network of footpaths and bridleways criss-crossing the land. Such outings include at least one pub stop.

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