I won’t be posting photographs in this post because I don’t want to invade my friends’ privacy, and they might not want to admit they know me! Really, I just want to talk a little bit about making friends in the country. Some of this will probably seem obvious but sometimes doing the obvious gets overlooked, and we need a reminder to buckle down and get on with it.
I had at one time spent nine years living in a village I would describe as ‘semi-rural’. I got to know a couple of neighbours while I was there but only one ever invited me in. Was it me? I don’t know but I don’t usually have trouble making friends. Essentially, this particular village was a bit of a ‘dormitory’ – a place people went to just to sleep and spend the weekend but not really a place that seemed to be truly alive. Had I been a mother with young children, or a committed church-goer, I might have fared better. Both of those scenarios seemed the most calculated to produce friendships and a social life of some sort. But, since children aren’t my thing, and I’m a committed atheist likely to burst into flames if I get within 10 yards of hallowed ground, these options weren’t open to me. I just didn’t ‘fit’. So, when I took the plunge and moved to the Peak District to be closer to Mr P, friends and a social life were my main concern. After all, I was leaving behind a thriving social life with good friends and regular social activities.
Luckily for me, my first neighbour was lovely, and within minutes had brought me a cup of tea and cake to keep me going while I moved my stuff into the little house I’d rented, and invited us round for her birthday party that night. Mr P (a bit of a party animal and dangerous dancer) and I had a great time, drank a little too much wine and danced on the carpet. I’d always wanted to try my hand at patchwork and quilting and by some miracle, there was a woman at the party who was a member of the quilting circle based in Monyash just three miles up the road. By the time I moved to Monyash to live with Mr P, just six months later (I’m sick of moving – enough already!), I was a regular at the Tuesday night quilting circle. We’re a really mixed bunch, though a fair few are farmers’ wives, there’s another academic, some retirees, and more. Quilting might sound parochial but it’s far from dull or boring – if you heard some of the conversations we have … well! And people make the most amazing and beautiful things (more on that in future!). I’m now also a member of the local WI where, once a month, we get together for a natter and to listen to a speaker. Speakers so far have been as varied as a professional makeup artist, representatives from a local owl and otter sanctuary, and my favourite, a farmer who talked about grass. Trust me, this was much more interesting than it sounds! Afterwards, we have a pot-luck supper, and a chin-wag.
All this is great but the real revelation was the pub. “You can’t rush friendship round here”, declared Mr P, who’s lived in the area for about 14 years. ” Don’t try to be friendly. You just have to wait for them to be ready to talk to you”. Blimey. I envisaged scenes out of An American Werewolf in London … a foggy night, walking into a pub, only to be met by stoney silence and hostile stares. Actually, there is a pub like that a few miles away but that’s another story. I expected that or Royston Vasey from The League of Gentlemen (which is actually filmed nearby). I’m not much of a drinker but beer-monster Mr P already knew lots of people in the pub and I just sort of tagged along for the ride really. At first all I got was ‘hello’, then nothing but, slowly, people started to include me in the conversation until last night I felt quite at home getting a drink and chatting until Mr P arrived to meet me. Through the pub I’ve become friendly with local farmers who I can drop in on and have a cup of tea with. They lend me books on chickens and tractors, and are a great source of information on what’s going on locally. I’m hoping to spend some time helping them with lambing over the next few weeks too. A local farming contractor sourced my chickens for me and gave me a chicken coop he happened to have spare!
Our neighbours are lovely. The couple nearest are fun to go for a drink with, helped us to build our chicken enclosure, and invited us round at Christmas. They’ll be keeping an eye on the chickens while we’re away in return for the eggs. If we set foot out of the door we’re almost certain to see someone we know and with whom we can have a chat. Through the pub we’ve got to know lots of people from the village, especially if they have dogs too. Dogs are a great way of meeting people; if you have one with you people will always talk to you, even if the dog is the only topic of conversation to start with.
If you’re going to move to an area like this, where there are people whose families have lived here for generations, you have to throw yourself into things if you want to be part of it all. If there’s a village fair or fete, go to it. Even if the weather’s awful! Join things. Take up new hobbies – if quilting’s not your thing there’s sure to be something that is. A nearby village has a bee-keeping society. If you fancy growing your own, take up an allotment and you’ll never be short of advice from helpful allotmenteers. There is plenty to do in the country and it is possible to build a fun and rewarding social life but you have to make it happen. Just don’t be snotty or expect fancy nights out, designer shops, and all night pizza deliveries – if you want those things, you’re in the wrong place. At this point you’re probably thinking “Christ, this sounds bloody boring. Bugger that, I’m moving to London instead.” Well, yes, country life quiet compared to the town or city but isn’t that why we live here, to escape the insane pace of urban life and instead find peace, a sense of ease, and community?
Of course, there’s always the pub’s New Year’s Eve party but that’s another story, and discretion is the better part of valour!
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