I realised that the town was a true community as soon as I heard a rumour that an old lady, a herbalist, had poisoned one of her neighbours. That is what community means: caring enough to poison people. In cities, contact with neighbours is so fleeting and impersonal that antagonism can be expressed only with baseball bats, a crude method requiring little cunning. If Marx were alive today, he would speak of the idiocy of urban life.
In a small town, the rest of the world hardly exists. One soon finds what happens there to be more interesting than what happens in the wide world beyond. For example, banks were crashing, shares were going up and down like lifts in a department store, the world was on the edge of a financial abyss (to speak metaphorically), but what really interested me was the flight the night before of the local publican. Why did he suddenly disappear, leaving no message for the orphaned carousers of the town?
It might have had something to do with the wider world, of course. The town’s four other pubs had closed down in the recent past, victims of changing habits and no doubt of taxation. Perhaps even the remaining pub was not commercially viable any longer.
True, it was not beautiful or picturesque, but what was encouraging about it was its convivial atmosphere. People got drunk there, but without exuding menace, which reminded me of a book that I read nearly 40 years ago that had a profound effect on me: Drunken Comportment, a survey by social psychologists of the way in which people get drunk around the world, demonstrating that aggression and importuning vulgarity are not purely pharmacological effects of alcohol. If the British are violent, vulgar and nasty when drunk, that is because they are violent, vulgar and nasty and live in a violent, vulgar and nasty society.