The Village Idiots

LOOK, I'm a woman of the world - I've BEEN to Taunton. So nothing annoys the hell out of me more than people making assumptions about me on the basis of my age, the way I look, the way I talk or where I live.

Us down yer in the West Country suffer from this a lot. If you have any kind of an accent you are immediately labelled a carrot-crunching village idiot with straw for brains. As George Bernard Shaw said: "It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him."

I am, of course, being a little hypocritical because it works the other way. If I never hear another braying woman wittering on about her bargain bedspread woven from the pubic hair of Amazonian indians, it won't be a day too soon. (I've written about this before… here).

My friend, born and bred on a Devon farm, was chatting in the village pub to a couple who had just moved into the area. The conversation turned to food and the different varieties of bread. “We like ciabatta,” said the woman, “but I don’t suppose you’ve heard of it.” Why on earth wouldn’t she have heard of ciabatta? She can read. She has visited Italy. They sell it in the local Tesco, for God’s sake.
But she shook her head. “No, I don't think I have,” she replied. “But I did go to ‘Exeturrr’ once,” exaggerating her already quite long Rs.

The woman smiled as the heavy irony sailed miles over the top of her head, and chattered on about bread, giving detailed descriptions of focaccia and sourdough like a teacher lecturing a class of 10-year-olds.

Personally, I would have taken my long Rs and shoved them up hers.

For, you see, the main conflict between country folk and in-comers has nothing to do with taking our houses or swanning into the village at the weekend with carrier bags full of provisions from a little delicatessen in Notting Hill and then complaining when the local shop closes down, or joining all the local committees and trying to take over without any real knowledge about rural life – although all those things can be galling - but treating us like simpletons. Or worse, a different species.

They corner us in our natural habitat, the pub on a Saturday evening, and capture one of us, usually the oldest and scruffiest, and force him to perform. For the price of a drink they expect ‘the local character’ to entertain them. Old George may decide to play up to the stereotype and tell exaggerated stories in an impenetrable accent. He’ll take the role in exchange for free cider all night. He'll then go home to running his agricultural business which employs 200 staff.

This is harmless enough but there are those who expect to tame one of us and take us into captivity. They want their own ‘little man’ or ‘little woman’ who they can train to perform menial tasks. They can then tell their friends, “I’ve found the most perfect little gardener. Of course, I can’t trust him with my azaleas but he can do the small stuff.”

They leave a long list of tasks that if performed properly would take the best part of a day, but pay for two hours. They treat the cleaner like a Victorian downstairs maid. If they had a range, they'd be making her black-lead it. These two have bald patches and dodgy knees, what with all that tucking of forelocks and bobbing curtseys.

My partner makes bespoke furniture; he’s cabinet maker, a craftsman, justifiably proud of his work. But some people, charging hundreds of pounds an hour for their professional expertise somehow seem to think that he should charge minimum wage for his. Not only that but he should abandon a £25,000 job to pop round and fix their faulty hinge – and be grateful for the work. They look askance when the reply is, “Sorry, mate, I’m a bit busy.”

This may sound like we're an unwelcoming, insular bunch, but we're not. Our pubs are full of people who have moved here from other parts of the country. They have settled in and made friends - because they try to join in without taking over and because they are, I don't know, just NORMAL people not trying to put on an act.

We are a peaceable tribe on the whole. It’s just that we can spot a phoney from the other side of a swede field.


  1. ow! ow! ow!

    great post. as a city person, i hurt when i read this. even though i am pretty sure i am not guilty of any of those behaviors.

    i grew up in a small city--not a village, but a town of about 80,000. it was a tourist town, and i had friends who worked as waiters and who despised (yet relied on the tips of) the "folks from the Cities" who came for the weekend.

    they had a whole raft of ways they got back at them, none of which i will reveal here. just another reminder that people need to beware showing their city ways too overtly when they go to the country...

  2. Fantastic post. There are certain times when I am reluctant to speak in public because I don't want anyone to know I'm an American. I don't want to be assumed to be One of Those Kinds of Americans. I absolutely love the rural life and, although I'm inclined to say stupid things like calling bullocks 'cows,' I just want to be an acceptable blow-in.

  3. I feel the same way about idiots who offer us fruit and expect us to go 'ooh ooh'. Give me decent, genuine Davey Attenborough anyday - I'd bet he'd know how to behave properly in your pubs.

  4. It is upsetting when people try to take the best bits from your local culture and show no respect for you. We have the Edinburgh Fringe coming up next month, when the town will be host to lots of thesps, some of whom will behave much worse up here than they would ever dare do back home, where there might be consequences. Please don't get me wrong - I love theatre, and many actors are wonderful people. But I can identify with that sense of being over-run you describe only too well! Still, shouldn't complain too much. I've booked some shows to see!

  5. oh this rings true! Having just moved from a small Devon village to a larger Cornish town, I can utterly sympathise. Dear god....

  6. Have to say that I found that to be the case in rural Warwickshire, but not since coming to farm in rural Devon - I dont think the locals would stand for appalling supercilious and superior behaviour of that sort, and they couldnt have been more welcoming. They do think I'm bonkers for working in London occasionally, but then, I agree with that completely! But when I go to Chagford, I suspect you could pin your beautifully crafted conceit on 1 in 3 folks.

  7. Coo-er, who rattled your cage? You tell 'em girl...patronizing plonkers. The only thing to bear in mind is that anyone that stupid as to think that only city folk know about ciabatta etc is probably just as stupid and arrogant back there too. The trouble is that there is a type of person who fancies themselves a cut above everyone else, believe me even in London we suffer from rude, insensitive, snobbish fools.

  8. "Personally, I would have taken my long Rs and shoved them up hers."

    Poetry, absolute poetry. But fear not, it is not just you folk in the West Country who get patronised by these fookers.

    When I tell them I live in SE London, they look with horror thinking they might get a nosebleed if they go south of the river Thames. Mind you, that suits me, there are less of them around my manor because they think it is 'rough'. I agree with their assumptions so they stay the hell out and keep rent costs cheap!

  9. Old George may ... tell exaggerated stories ... He’ll take ... free cider all night. He'll then go home to running his agricultural business which employs 200 staff.

    I used do this with Yankee tourists. They've stopping coming because it's too expensive. So now I have to rely on blow-ins from Dublin for my free beer. Thankfully there is a never ending supply of gullible souls.

  10. To put a slightly different slant on things...

    I'm a Devonshire girl through and through, and very proud of where I come from. (Exeturrr.) However, I learned pretty quickly that if I wanted to be successful in my career, I had no choice but to lose the accent.

    I've never come across anyone in Cutomer Service with a Westcountry accent...even westcountry newsreaders speak the Queen's English. And I can still recall the evening I witnessed Tony Beard being booed off the stage at a local event...purely because of his voice.

    Sometimes, I think we're our own worst enemy.

  11. In the US, it's the southern accent. My dad was right off the boat from Scotland; my mom is from Louisiana. We had dueling accents growing up. (This explains why I usually have a mild drawl, but when I am super-pissed, I cuss in Gaelic.)

    People hear the drawl and automatically think I am stupid -- and treat me as such.

  12. Excellent post. Out here in my neck of the world, we get slagged off by people from Orange County and LA. They act like nothing at all exists between the edge of LA County and Las Vegas. Those 2 million people in between just don't count.

    Then they all move out here because it's so cheap, the housing prices go up, the freeways are always clogged, and there's a Starbucks on every corner. And then they expect us to adore them, as they have brought "progress."

  13. In 1983 the train I was on broke doon in Taunton for 2 hours, I'm scared for life.

  14. It would appear you've put a link to my site on yours. This is very kind. I wonder if I could return the compliment ?


  15. You should ask them if they've ever heard of manners.

  16. Loved the post. I'm a military brat, and as such I've spent my life bobbing here and there in the US. Toss in a decided family devision - IE North Vs South, and my accent ranges from the clipped Boston to the drawling Atlanta. No matter where I have lived, there is an adjustment period of getting my accent tuned into the locals. During that time? I'm the entertainment of the day, people have tried to make me talk on cell phones to their friends "cause you talk soooo funny!" A pain growing up, but something I can now use to my advantage. If you think I'm a hick from the sticks, I can usually get my way... if you assume I'm a nit from the city, same thing.

    God I love sterotypes. Makes it so much easier to manipulate people!

    Great post. Your friend was a lot nicer than I would have been.

  17. Laurie: "people need to beware showing their city ways too overtly when they go to the country..." - and vice-versa! Taking that cow to lunch at the Ritz might be frowned on.

    Ann: It's a shame that people make assumptions before they get to know you. I'm sure you'd fit in really well in my village.

    GB: I think a gorilla might be quite VISIBLE in my village but we'd do our best to lay on the best bananas.

    Motheratlarge: I will be watching the Edinburgh festival on TV. I've never been to Edinburgh but it's on my list of "must visit" places.

    Flowerpot: You left Devon for Cornwall? Are you mad! Only joking, Cornwall is my second favourite county in Britain.

    Mopsa: We welcome anybody who is friendly - as I'm sure you are!

    Herschelian: I love London - except for the Tube. The last time I was on the Tube there was a security scare and we stopped in a tunnel for ages. Didn't like that one bit!

    Little Cheese: Gawd, mate, tell 'em to leave it aht. That's my Cockney impression over for today, you'll be pleased to hear.

    Sneezey: I'm working on getting free gins and tonic - but it's not quite the right image somehow! We're all supposed to drink Scrumpy here - lethal stuff.

    Miss U: When it comes to accents, I tend to talk as posh as the person I'm having a conversation with - very Queen's English sometimes, but in the pub, definitely more Devonshire. I sometimes catch myself talking in a Cockney accent to my friend who's moved here from London. I can't help myself. I've seen Tony Beard perform - years ago at the Verbeer Manor at Willand. He had all his jokes written on bits of paper stuck to the back of his crook! He was hilarious (sometimes unintentionally so!). We were all pissed and thought he was wonderful!

    Cranky: Cussing in Gaelic? Now there's a talent for which I envy you!

    Fat Sparrow: Progress? I should progress them right back where they came from!

    Mr Knudsen: You spent two hours in Taunton? That explains a lot about your blog!

    Jungle: Link away!

    Sassy: "You should ask them if they've ever heard of manners." I think I know the answer to that!

    Jenna: You can sometimes see the shock on people's faces when they realise that all their assumptions about you are totally wrong!

  18. Have you tried burning a few holiday homes down - seemed to work for the Welsh!

    I think the Government ought to treble the council tax on second (holiday) homes - if you can afford to own two houses you can certainly pay for it. Some people don't even have one. It might stop the destruction of rural life.

  19. I've never heard of ciabatta but then I am from the colonies ;)

  20. Well I get peed off because people say I talk posh! I SOOO DON'T, but I do use big words, so I guess I have to take what's coming.

    Being an anthropologist (ex), I try to make no assumptions (she says, self-righteously), but honest-to-god, I've had children come round to my house on sleepovers who have never heard of - or tasted - a croissant even though they sell them in all of the supermarkets. Many of them are also not used to being offered vegetables with their food. Maybe I am a bit posh m-c for round here

  21. Just re-reading my post I sound really snotty...I'm not, honest!

    Just wanted to say that it can work both ways, my daughter used to be teased at school for having fruit bars/unusual breads in her lunchbox. We can't help who we are.

  22. Frobisher: I'm a member of the "Be Nice" religion and everyone is welcome, even people with second homes, just as long as they're friendly. Your idea about increasing tax is a good one - then plough all the money back into building affordable homes.

    Loz: From the colonies - and a man! So we expect nothing and forgive everything. Haven't met you before but I'll be over for a visit soon (I'm talking about your blog here. I'm not going to turn up on your doorstep with my suitcase in my hand.)

    Mid-lifer: You're right. It takes all sorts to make a world Prince William can no more help how he was born than Pablo can help being the son of a Spanish donkey-sexer. As I said, I don't want people who don't know me to make assumptions about me, and I will try not to make assumptions about them.

  23. Being a Yorkshire Dales girl originally our summers used to be hapmered by visitors in their Volvos who never failed to be amazed by the fact we used knives and forks...

    We had some classic visitors over the years - perhaps I should blog about them sometime!

  24. Oh, how familiar is that? I was born and raised in Gloucestershire, but it wasn't that obvious that I was local because I was married to a Scot (specially imported for the purpose) and did rather obscure IT-related work.

    Once, in the pub, someone asked me where I was from.

    "Oh, I'm not local" I said "I come from the other side of Painswick", Painswick being about 10 miles from where we were sitting.

    It took about three beats for the penny to drop, and when it did they apologised profusely. Sad thing was, they didn't realise that - coming from 15 miles or so away - I really didn't think of myself as local.

    As the bloke who ran the pub used to say "if you want to find a fool in the country, you'll have to bring him with you from town".

    These days those parts of Gloucesterhire that aren't under 5' of water are full of film and tv stars, the pubs are all restaurants, and the 'locals' have all moved.

    Tidier that way of course.

    Thanks for reminding me why I left.