You are in [Themes] [Miscellaneous and unual oddities] [City Slicker]

Summary:

This is an extract from Glascow Herald, Friday January 9th 1998. It gives a totally misguided impression of life in Hungerford in the 1990s.

CITY SLICKER by Anvar Khan.

And so the begining of the year was spent in Hungerford, the land of the Barbour jacket and the fox-hound, a village as sensitive about the gun as Lockerbie is about the aeroplane. This is middle-England, brimming with self-made millionaires; you can hear the crunch of unsoiled notes beneath your feet. This is the home of the pleasure-seeking and, I hear, from a reputable source, prime wife-swapping territory too. I was'n't approached, dammit, but then I am not married.

The Jaguar cars and Range Rovers try to avoid hitting the odd free-range cockerel, walking the roads like Prince Charles in a pair of badly-fitting skis, although sometimes the organic, winding lanes look as if they have witnessed some community voodoo ritual, as bird feathers, enough even for Shirley Bassey's collection of boas, dandify the green verges.

It's not just the memory ofMichael Ryan and the Hungerford massacre that allows the town its edginess. It's not the constant war between the noveau riche and the landowner, the local yokel and the fun-loving businessman. It is the turnover of ambitions, marriages, affairs, the prevalence of gossip, the mix of commuters and farmers, the fact that you can leave your door open and toys outside at night because you know everyone and everything. This small town is as luxurious and as claustrophobic as a lock-in at the Ritz.

It is a beautiful place. Mansions have white pillared facades, as wedding cake-sweet as J.R Ewing's Southfork Ranch, or have thatched roofs in the shape of a witch's hat. The smaller cottages could double as confectionery, these are dwellings straight out of Hansel and Gretel,

Walking among them was like being returned to the fairytales of my childhood, stories which have a claim on my vision, which are the spectacles of my mind's eye. Behind every gingerbread and marzipan door, it seemed there lurked an ogre of huge appetite.

Looking through each small square window, behind the piles of dusting sugar and icing softening the frame, like pale sand lining the aerial view of a rocky cove, you see the pristine antique furniture in the study, silver trays of gin, and industrial strength crystal.

Books, endless books, and not a sound or a movement, save the flickering of a TV screen. The people of Hunger ford are very mysterious. They might not be human at all.

The residents are characters straight out of fictional radio show The Archers. I have cheek to be so judgemental, because Hungerford is up for a laugh, and, after a spontaneous rendition of Don't Cry For Me, Argentina in the pub, everyone clapped me and cheered and stamped their feet and I was the toast of many a barge party.

No, it's just that Hungerford is strange, green-wellied area, where all rich men look like a cross between Lord Lucan and Basil Brush, with the same oily Village People moustache, tweed waistcoat and matching trousers.

Although any fox, I fear, is shot on sight. And the rich women are heavy and uninhibited, fat and happy in licorice Lycra, confident and showy, their every teasingchuckle and glass ofKrug a means to arouse the territorial jealousies of their rustic rivals.

The generations of ancient provincial families are proprietorial and despise the ,"incomers", the refugees from London rat-race capitalism.

Surrounded by virgin fields, and the red brickwork of modem housing development, Hungerford is prickly and highly-strung, stranded between the past and the encroaching present.

The local graveyard lays testament to the equilibrium and harmony of the former century, and to the misery of the confused current.

There are tombstones dedicated to residents who lived to 103, and there are graves refreshed with flowers - people who were, perhaps, the victims of man's modern rage rather than old age.

The town is touchy to the point of paranoia about its world image. Hungerford does not suffer from poverty, this much is true. Preferring the village to evolve
independently of progress, the elders resent its formation including the random variables from London and third generation Scots.

Material security they can live with, but the erosion of culture, of heritage, they cannot. Perhaps they feel, and I don't blame then, that the 20th Century brings nothing but violence. Violence in context, however, they vigorously defend.

I bought a full-length fake ocelot coat in a sale, and jokingly wondered aloud that a farmer might mistake me for a wild cat and shoot me. And perhaps, this was why, I went on, the coat was so well reduced in price.

Immediately presuming I was criticising the hunt, the sales assistant got very upset, and ran through a few Hammer House of Horror reasons for the killing of the fox. "You should see the state of them chickens, they torture 'em, leave 'em with their throats cut, we've 'ad to kill sheep after they've been mangled."

Quite, I was heartened to know that, having witnessed the fatalities of civilians and of beasts, the village has decided that English tradition alone deserves to be better protected.