One of those days in England 2 – Syresham Scarecrow Festival

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Having had such a good time on Archer’s Bench, it seemed churlish not to continue down the road, which is how I came to find myself in the village of Syresham. Normally, I’m sure, a place of quiet charm, full of attractive cottages in that lovely butterscotch coloured limestone that makes this part of the world so easy on the eye.The sort of place that smells of Lavender and Lime flowers that you hope has a decent pub.

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The air was indeed full of the sweet scent of Lime (lots of lovely mature old trees, under one of which I parked the car) and Lavender, (every other front garden seemed full of the stuff), but there was also a distinct whiff of that particularly English strain of genial madness that aflicts small communities from time to time. This is often glossed over with a veneer of tradition, but I’ve always thought that was just an excuse for us to loosen our collective stays and go a bit daft every once in a while.

Had I entered the village by one of the main roads, rather than crept up on it from behind, I would have been better prepared. I would have read the large signs and known. Syresham was enjoying it’s annual Scarecrow Festival. This year the theme was ‘Stage and Screen’. The range of interpretations offered was surpisingly wide – all the way from Steptoe and Son to James Bond – and as far as I could tell the folks happily ambling about taking it all in mainly locals.

The amount of work people are prepared to put into things like this never ceases to astonish (and delight) me – highlights included not one, but two suspended exhibits, a splendid Royal Wedding tribute featuring a car, most of the cast of Alice in Wonderland. And a defiantly not-yellow submarine skillfully papier-mache’d together from fragments of the better broad-sheets. Even the less artistically gifted found ways of adding a certain something. The creator of a memorable James Bond obviously felt that although the suit was good, they could perhaps have done better with the head (photograph straight from the bubble-jet, not even cut out). To help the ambience of sophisticated danger one associates with Bond they’d wedged a portable CD player in an open window, playing a selection of the film themes.

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According to the chatty lady on the charity stall outside the post office,

‘Oh, we’ve been doing it for a while now…six or seven years…a lot of other places make it a competition, but there’s no prizes here, we don’t do that because we want everyone to join in’

I know what it’s like living in a village, the good and the bad, where anything louder than a mouse clearing it’s throat is immediately amplified and disseminated far and wide. If that’s all that happens, if the system is closed, then a type of stultifying social claustrophobia sets in, and the whole place stagnates. If there’s hardly any locals left, and the village is full of recent, commuting incomers then the system is too open and there’s hardly a real place left at all.

It’s a hard balance to strike, but this is clearly a village that understands the need to open themselves out from time to time, to go a bit daft and enjoy each others  barmyness.

The pub looks fairly decent as well – the garden was full of people, and a man with guitar was doing his thing. He’d just finished a number as I walked past, on the way back to the car. There was a warm scattering of applause, then a deep male voice intoned, with such authority as to render the conclusion beyond dispute,

‘Good job, Dave’.

This is the type of place I want to live in.

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