Who are you, again?

I do enjoy a bit of Facebook. The exchange of news, views and general information. It’s a place for sharing, and it can be quite an education, in a social media kind of way. People love to share, and they love to share for a variety of reasons. Pure generosity, uncontrollable enthusiasm, loyalty to the cause, etc, etc. But nothing gets shared quite as quickly or widely as the news of someone’s death. It’s customary, when one of these announcements pop up, to react with a sad emoji, or leave a short comment by way of a condolence. Easy enough if the dead person is a name you know. David Bowie, Bruce Forsyth, Alan Rickman. More recently, Cyrille regis, Jimmy Armfield, Dorothy Malone, Bella Emberg, and Peter Wyngarde.

Then there are people you feel you should know, Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries, Jim Rodford, bass player with The Kinks, 'Fast' Eddie Clarke of Motorhead. Ray Thomas of The Moody Blues, for goodness sake. He played the flute solo on Nights in White Satin! So, for these people, it’s just a sad emoji, and no comment. Which feels like you’re short-changing the poor souls, but there you go.

Finally, the individual luminaries that you’ve never heard of in your entire life, yet almost everyone else seems broken beyond belief at news of their passing. I’m holding my hands up and saying here and now, in the jigsaw of my existence, there are great gaping spaces where these giants should fit. Which means that recently, I have discovered an Ursula K. Le Guin shaped piece missing, not to mention the Nicanor Parra piece which would, I suspect, go a long way toward completing the Chilean poet part of the picture. Actually, that’s not true. Virtually all the Chilean poet pieces are missing or lost. Some may have been eaten by the ghost of Rin Tin Tin.

Well, I said Facebook can be an education. My education, these days, seems to consist more and more of Googling newly departed ‘names’, previously unknown to me. 

Eventually, I might be able to award myself an Albert Einstein emoji. After all,didn’t he claim, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”?

That's settled, then?

Some of you will notice that the name of this blog has changed. It used to be, ‘The Label Fell Off’. I don’t know what I was thinking when I came up with that one. Anyway, I don’t want to dwell on it for too long, although I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day. It’s now called ‘From the Sticks’, which is a fair description of my origins, and an accurate reference to where I live. Not a little thatched cottage in the woods, however. But a rented first floor, two bedroom flat. A habitat, housing association style. A place we decided, 18 years ago, would be temporary, for three years, max.

It’s a comfy home. Plenty of room for two people to move about without bumping into one another. Small enough to ensure that a conversation can take place without shouting, even if we’re occupying different rooms. It’s our base. Our shelter, if you like. A snug retreat, made for withdrawing to. A utilitarian nest designed and built around 45 years ago, to accommodate over 50s and retirees who had previously counted on tied cottages for a roof over their heads. It’s an assured tenancy from where we can emerge into the landscape, at will. And it was the landscape that hooked us almost two decades ago.

The village itself has no definable centre. Although, if pushed, I’d say that our little cluster of social housing, bordered on one side of the Close with detached, privately owned dwellings, is as near to a beating heart as you’ll get, in terms of population density. We have a small pub that’s currently closed, a primary school, garage, village hall, and a telephone exchange that’s close enough to deliver broadband speeds comparable to “Infinity”.

Away from where we are, the rest of the village clings to the tendrils of winding lanes, occasionally blooming around a number of village greens, so cherished that they warrant, collectively, a preservation society - cue The Kinks.

Our Close is tucked away from view, and you’ll probably only wind up in this particular patch of desirable postcode, if you have a connection, or you’ve taken a wrong turning. For anyone passing through, the homes of those who make up the main body of the village population are invisible. A significant part of the community exists in a haze of anonymity. The kind that goes hand in hand with transience. If there's an elephant in the idyll, that no one talks about, it's the one that doesn't blow it's own trumpet, and is born out of class division. Yes, we have our share of thinly veiled resentment/snobbery. Usually on the part of those who feel aggrieved at having to rub shoulders with the precariat. A minority who have their sleep disturbed by theories about how it all went wrong. Their recurring nightmares of precious chocolate box images inevitably marred with dog-ends and discarded takeaway cartons, break a cumulative cold sweat. Visions of the place of their dreams buckle and descend to the late night echo of domestic disagreement, and drunken discord. Quite sad, and unfounded fears.

Several years ago, a TV company came to film a profile of the village for an episode of a series portraying the workings of a rural community. There were items about first responders, a man who fashioned walking sticks from misshapen branches, a woman who spent her spare time making corn dollies. There were bellringers and church wardens. But there wasn’t the barest mention of social housing, or the inhabitants. Yet if the researchers had bothered to knock a few doors, they would have discovered a treasure trove of people with an intimate knowledge of the area. People who live useful and interesting lives. Low profile individuals who modestly keep the community ticking along. 

Little wonder we stayed. It’s a privilege to be one of a number of ordinary people, living together in an extraordinary landscape.