Friday, 27 April 2007

Exford v Winsford

We live loosely sandwiched between two villages. Neither one nor t’other, twixt the two, slightly schizophrenic really. Two miles one way is Winsford, two miles the other is Exford. And really it could be a Tale of Two Villages as they are totally different.

Winsford is picture postcard cute – ‘the prettiest village on Exmoor’ (or so it claims), all thatched roofs, ancient cob, banks dripping with snowdrops and brooks that softly babble the way brooks are supposed to. There are five (I think) bridges and one ford. Two artists’ studios and an old thatched inn; a lovely old church and the old school turned computer centre. Horses poke their noses out of stable doors and there are crocuses edging the walls of the post office-cum-shop. Its population is (mainly) the ever-so-slightly smug retired and the biggest moan is the cottage that ‘lets the side down’ by having a huge pile of slag in the front garden. Nothing much happens in Winsford – well apart from the body being found in a bag up on Winsford Hill, of course. Oh, and people still roll their eyes at the time when a helicopter flew in a handful of whores to service the city slicker shooters staying at the inn (but that was about ten years ago).

Exford, on the other hand, is a far leaner, meaner, tougher, rougher place altogether. Two pubs face off across the green. The shop, the post office and the newsagent hustle for custom and over the years there have been ‘turf wars’ with underhand smear campaigns and shopping each other to Customs and Excise over cheap cigarettes and booze from the continent. Skullduggery abounds and people swop husbands/wives/dogs/bodily fluids with monotonous regularity. Down past the school skulks the ‘Social Club’ where Drink is Taken in gargantuan quantities and bodies fly out at periodic intervals.

Winsford is all dinky Suzuki Vitaras and invalid ride-ons with whirligigs; Exford is stonking great trucks with bull-bars and wall-eyed collies balancing on haybales in the back. Winsford is the bridge club, musical evenings and coffee mornings. Exford is all about getting rat-arsed, fighting and falling off your bar stool/horse/quad or driving down a ditch. The Winsford ‘inn’ is full of tweedy shooters in weird stockings in the winter scoffing venison and packs of day-glo ramblers sharing one cream tea in the summer. Exford ‘pubs’ are thick with smoke and crammed with men in steel-capped boots, filthy jeans and John Deere baseball caps chatting up girls with scraped back blonde hair, jodhpurs and very tight polo necks. Winsford is well-behaved black labs and elderly spaniels; Exford is Jack Russells peeing up your leg. Winsford is shooting parties; Exford is poachers. The Winsford shop sells parma ham, Green & Blacks and parsnip crisps; the Exford one flogs turkey twizzlers and Bulls’ Blood.

Sorry, got a bit carried away there but I was thinking about it today as my neighbour (mile down the valley) drove me to our friend Vicky’s for lunch (in honour of another friend, Gill, whose birthday it was). We were talking about various people from Exford and Winsford and how different they were (there are serious clans – it’s just like Lorna Doone)… and whether we were more ‘Winsford’ or ‘Exford’..and what it meant. No final conclusions reached.

Lunch was fabulous. I’ve been going a bit stir-crazy of late (as you might have noticed) and it was good to get together with friends, glug a bit of wine and have a laugh. Vicky lives in an age-old farmhouse (they have a mixed farm – but mainly chickens and cattle). It’s an old long-house that rambles up and down and is quite simply divine in a rather ramshackle and unprepossessing way. Rather alarmingly today it was boasting a steel girder balanced on bricks holding up the hall.
‘Ah yes,’ said Vicky. ‘Paul decided that calving wasn’t enough for him so he decided to excavate the loo.’ She opened a door and what had been their cloakroom now resembles a sort of dungeon, festooned with pick-axes and another pole looking decidedly precarious, given it was probably holding up the entire house. Being Vicky she didn’t seem remotely worried.

We ate too much, drank too much, laughed like drains and generally behaved raucously. Then I was bundled back in the car and deposited home feeling very guilty as I hadn’t done a scrap of work – and Adrian was going to have to pick up James as I was clearly over the limit. I’m now sitting here with a slightly sore head and the distinct feeling that I must be veering towards Exford somehow.

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