I have new neighbours. Like a lot of people they have upped sticks from the city and retired to God’s own county of Devon where they had previously spent many a happy holiday.
They know that living here is going to be very different from being on vacation. For a start, they are in a country village, not a bustling coastal town, so it will be much quieter. They will have to cope with the drawbacks of living in a rural area, like the fact that they will have to drive miles for their celeriac unless the don't mind replacing it with turnips or swedes - we have plenty of those in our one and only shop which is part of the service station.
They said they were quite happy about the move - until they made the mistake of visiting an internet forum and asking people's advice about living in Devon. Among all the exhortations to "go for it" were one or two warning them about the insularity of the local people. One person said you had to have "three generations in the churchyard" before you were accepted.
I was surprised at this view and more than a little offended. I personally know of no local person who gives the cold shoulder to people who have not lived here since the year dot.
In fact, a recent Cambridge University study concluded that Devonshire people were among the friendliest in the country. In my experience, they have a natural reticence which can be misconstrued as being stand-offish but dig deeper and you will find people full of the milk of human kindness. I know, I am a Devonian. I have human kindness milk coming out my ears.
I always welcome new neighbours. I'm not the type to take round a home-baked cake; I don't want to poison them. But I'm very happy to do what I'm good at - offer unsolicited advice! So here are a few tips for becoming part of the community
1. Support local events even if you hate the sound of them. How do you know that you wouldn't like ferret racing or a game at the village fete called "splat the rat" unless you've had a go? You might think you would rather be at home with your feet up watching soaps on TV but the local panto is always hilarious and a good night out. Many participants are surprisingly talented and then there are all those "in" jokes. If you have made the effort to fit in with village life you might even understand one or two of them. The show will probably be within walking distance of your house and in a village hall next to the pub. What's not to like?
2. Learn to love tractors. They will hold up the traffic for miles if you are in a hurry. However, if you have plenty of time, they will immediately pull into a passing place or turn off the road. That's just the way it is. Tractors are a vital part of country life. If you need a bit more persuading, visit a tractor rally (yes, there is such a thing).
3. Buy local. Devonshire produce is the best in the world, from vegetables grown in our rich red soil to beef from our Red Ruby cows grazing on lush green pastures. Obviously Devon makes the best pasties and produces the best clotted cream - eschew those Cornish imposters.
4. Accept that there will be certain times of the year when the air will be more unsavoury than a London smog in 1952. The smells of the countryside can occasionally be a little ripe. It’s only good natural dung being spread on fields and silage being made. Offset that with the smell of fresh air during the rest of the year, freshly mown grass, wild flowers and the whiff of cooking pasties wafting in the air. It's a small price to pay.
5. And finally, living here is not necessarily about finding the right people but BEING the right person. Don't expect too many Devonians to pop round to welcome you with open arms, although some will. Try to fit in and you will see just how friendly the natives are. I’d be happy to welcome new neighbours to my house – if they bring a cake with them I’ll be their friend forever.
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