‘What do you think it means?’ I asked the builder boyfriend as we stood in front of the sign. A huge placard, it had been hammered into the ground by the village action group.
‘Keep Our Village in the Green Belt’ is the gist of what it says. But behind it is another sign, which has been there since we arrived, and, we assume, long before that. This one says ‘No Horse-Riding’.
The new sign has been put just in front of the first, slightly to the right, so that the two are unavoidably read together as you enter the village, and form a sort of double message, as impenetrably contradictory as any I have ever seen. We want to be in the green belt, says one sign, while the other announces an ambition to eradicate the sight of people on horseback.
Both appear to be the work of the stalwarts who run the village. The new sign bears the logo of the local action group, which opposes house building, and the old one is the work of the parish council. From what I can make out, the same people are on both.
We stood there a while, the builder b and I, when we noticed the new sign, and pondered how on earth we were to survive it all. These signs are not the only signs, you see. There are signs everywhere. One becomes quite punch-drunk from reading them all. Most are Dos and Don’ts on placards in italic writing, usually culminating in the legend ‘By Order of the Parish Council’. Some of them are so dramatically forbidding, one half expects to drive up the track to find Gandalf in robes by the play area bellowing ‘You shall not pass!’ at children trying to get to the swings.
There are parking signs on every verge, and posts rammed into the ground everywhere. The other day, a van pulled up and a man started ripping out the small picket fence-sized posts encompassing the segment of green nearest the main road. In their place, he hammered into the grass dozens of enormously thick waist-high stakes, which might have been designed for a hotel on a game reserve to keep out marauding hippos.
A siege mentality prevails, but I can’t work out who or what the ruling parish council is trying to keep out. Passers-by, perhaps? People wanting to sit on a bench to eat their cheese sandwich? The other day a small boy rode his mini-motorbike across the green and a member of the parish council chased him away.
Last week, while riding Gracie on a nearby bridleway, I bumped into a couple of young girls on their ponies. As we chatted away about the best places to ride, they told me to avoid anywhere near the village. A few weeks before, they explained, a man who said he was from the parish council had attempted to chase them off the bridleway.
Who the hell are these people? And what is their game? I looked up the official list. Seven people, who all proposed and seconded each other. No hint of their political affiliations, of course, because parish councillors are meant to be apolitical. But the ones I’ve spoken to have revealed themselves to be either Lib Dem or Labour.
No wonder everyone seems so unhappy. No wonder the dog-walking woman shouts random insults at me every morning. No wonder the lady who works in the bakery is so vocal about despising bread. They’re sick and tired of living under the yoke of a Lib-Lab dictatorship. As a foretaste of what the country might be getting if Corbyn slithers into office, it is terrifying.
The confusion over whether or not this lot like or loathe the countryside is perhaps indicative of a deeper malaise or identity crisis. Possibly they don’t know themselves what they are trying to achieve. As I discovered, the Libs here brazenly oppose all house building, while their national colleagues call for unlimited immigration.
The parish council is spending £54,725 (£88 per person) of villagers’ council tax — on placards and fence posts, it must be assumed — and its accounts show tons more cash disappearing, which I presume is raised by other means.
But there are signs of unrest. The No Horse-Riding sign has been scratched viciously all over. The other day, a parish councillor left his car parked on the high street with a sign on the dashboard announcing impending tree surgery in public areas. His windscreen was smashed.
It’s a bit like living on the set of Midsomer Murders. I don’t suppose John Nettles will be needed, but it would be fun if the villagers at least had a small-scale revolution and told the Lib-Labs where to go.