It was obvious we were going to have to do something about the village hall. Wendy over-insuring it had put an ‘unfortunate’ fire out of our reach. Still, it did strike me that a five year sentence for arson, with time off for good behaviour, might still be less of an ordeal than a village hall committee meeting. Not only that, but subjectively the prison sentence might not last as long.
As always the committee members from Auldwick sat opposite those from Cowperthwaite with both sides glaring at each other. The hall is not quite in either village, thus both villages feel relieved of any obligation to contribute to the maintenance, but both seem equally happy to blame the other village for neglecting their duties.
At the opposite end of the table from me sat Wendy. Living as she does opposite the hall she is the obvious person to be treasurer and also to open up the hall on those occasions somebody is imprudent enough to hire it. By virtue of not living in either village, and also with being the only one who can understand the accounts, she is regarded with deep suspicion by the rest of the committee.
From Cowperthwaite we had Poppy Atkinson. Actually Poppy isn’t the name she was christened with, it’s just a nickname she acquired from the amount of recreational opiates she used back in the 1970s. Next to her was Denis her husband. He wore the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ expression you tend to see in people who spend too much time in Poppy’s company.
From Auldwick we had Archie Wilson. Archie was chairman for forty years; indeed it was his idea to patch the hall with pallet timber. It has to be said that this decision sums up Archie’s management style beautifully. He always gives the impression that he’s a man who has never spent twenty pounds in his whole life, and certainly not on clothes. There again, his father’s demob suit still fitted Archie beautifully.
Also from Auldwick we had Ann Hodgson. If a white slaver offered me a tenner cash for the entire committee, he could have them, with the exception of Ann. Anybody who can make lemon drizzle cake like she can has to be a jewel beyond price. A widowed lady, her carrot cake has enticed even life-long bachelors into briefly contemplating matrimony. The sole reason we had a village hall at all was because Ann ran a cake stall at our Christmas fete. It was our largest single source of income.
Finally, acting as secretary, was Megan. She is Wendy’s daughter, teaches in the local school and therefore is presumed to be literate.
The vicar was supposed to be there, but had given her apologies because she’d had to fit in an urgent funeral visit.
After the ritual reading of previous minutes I explained the current situation with regard to the hall, casting doubt on its structural integrity and life expectancy.
As I expected, Archie was livid. Had I cast doubt on the fidelity of his wife I would have got less reaction.
“There’s no reason to go daft with money. It’ll see us all out. Especially now that Young Geordie’s put a new roof on.”
Megan sighed loudly as she noted his comment but said nothing. Poppy laughed out loud. “Thinking of dying before Christmas Archie? I cannot see the hall surviving this autumn’s gales.” She turned to her husband, “Isn’t that right Denis?”
Before Archie could come back with his own sally, Wendy hastily joined the conversation. “Megan and I were talking. Apparently you can get Lottery money for village hall projects.”
“Nonsense, there’s nothing wrong with the Hall.” Archie was well dug in and was preparing to defend his position.
“Then why,” asked Wendy sweetly, “are we not meeting there?” She gestured gracefully to Ann. “Why is it we are meeting in Ann’s kitchen rather than the hall.”
To be fair to Archie, it wasn’t just that the hall was colder than charity. Any meeting held in Ann’s kitchen was bound to be properly catered.
Megan dropped a pile of paper on the table in front of me. “I went on their website when I was in school and downloaded the application forms and guidance notes.”
I stared at the pile with horrified fascination. The school was the only place locally with a decent broadband connection. Mind you looking at the pile of documentation on the table, the school paper budget had taken a hammering.
I picked my words carefully. “Thank-you for that Megan.”
I pushed the pile tentatively but it was massive enough to resist my attempt to shove it off onto somebody else. “When you were on line, did you find anybody who can help us fill this lot in?”
You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.
If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.
Alternatively if you just want a good book
Available from Amazon in paperback or ebook
As a reviewer commented, “Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”