Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Love & rage in an English village

Waiting for a friend to arrive from Wolverhampton and mixing up the dates, I spent a week in Compton village, described in my canal guide as 'busy but uninteresting'. Bit damning eh!
It's busy because it's had the misfortune to be ripped through the middle by an A road but the cars don't simply roar through. They smog and clog up a big roundabout that was built on the site of the village square. The valiant residents semaphore to each other from different sides and schoolkids watch for the gap to dart across to their friends. What a plague cars are. I'd cheerfully see them all sledgehammered, especially when there's such an excellent bus service in and out of Wolverhampton. I'm filled with rage and want to scream "Get out of your bloody cars you selfish morons!"
I went to the nearest pub to the canal - The Oddfellows. It belongs to the road. I'm sure many people love it but the few people drinking in there seemed to be passing through to somewhere else. Two women clutching handbags stared at me throughout, as though they'd never seen a lone woman in a pub - BUYING A DRINK. I gulped down my cider, glad that I'd just bought a half. On the walls, among the standard pub chain pics were a couple of photos of old Compton that made me want to weep. Wide empty lanes with people walking in them. I wanted to find something, anything of that village and besides, I didn't feel I'd had 'a drink out' yet, so set off to the Swan pub further along. It's very old and from the moment I went in I could see these people weren't heading off anywhere else. On the walls were sepia photographs of people, smiling shyly, now long dead, which I always find incredibly moving. I fell in love with the picture of one young lad and the man he must have become and the old fellow I hope he lived to be. Apart from the charm of an old, quirky pub building with its warren-like rooms, the people inside were friendly, open and welcoming. I learnt about some of the history of the village, the posh hall up the road and how carriage wheels had to be covered to muffle the noise of deliveries to not disturb the gentry. I heard about the estate and farmland that were quarried for sandstone that has left the surrounding area with sudden valleys, but which are now covered in heathland and trees and allotments. The surrounding land has become a nature reserve and it's so uplifting to see young trees beginning a forest. I would love to come back in 50 years and walk among them then. I may need to be dug up first, but hey.
The old railways line has become a walker's trail and loads of people use it every day.

Here's just one section of the fantastic gates on the 'Wolverhampton Environment Centre'. I was dying to see what lay beyond but it seemed closed each time I passed, unfortunately.

One thing that makes me rage though (yes, I know, add it to the list) is the habit of nailing bits of plastic to cut-down trees. Talk about adding insult to injury. Worse still, is putting them on growing trees, a constant reminder that the hand of man is on every sodding thing. Ten long nails driven into healthy woody flesh. I suppose it's aimed at children but can't they be encouraged to look out for amazing map lichen and buds instead?

The fine folk of Compton don't just hang out in the Swan pub. People in the launderette, the chippy (very nice!), dog-walkers seem to be very friendly. It doesn't seem to be a place where folk are barricaded in or barricaded out like many English villages I visited.
And I haven't mentioned the Hospice which is an important place in Compton. It's in a big old mansion and in one of two nearby buildings (the stables perhaps) is the busiest charity shop I've ever visited. If you hang around for 10 minutes, half the stock seems to change with constant sales and replenishments! I found two beautiful/ugly cast iron candlesticks which I love.
The second building has a tea-room/cafe. From posters, I see that there are regular live music gigs and other events in the village pubs and nearby schools, all supporting this hospice. Here was a real sense of community that the canal guide and all those drivers passing through, had missed. There's a whole other hidden story to tell of boaters here (who one shiny boater near me dismissed as "scruffy overstayers") supporting each other by collecting gas and coal for their elderly and infirm neighbours, popping in just to check they're okay or bringing the paper. I hate people and the things they do. I love people and the things they do.


Simon said...

excellent candlestick _ I must find a way of adding charity shops to the Canalplan site, sod the pubs... ;-)

Lovely post, really describing how you found the real village, in pure contrast to the canal guide dismissal.

I do occasional battle myself with people who think you have to add things to nature to make it 'fun', rather than letting it speak for itself. Arg.

Am currently using posh blacking that stays shiny, so am planning to put a coat of normal over for that preferred matt look. No-one's going to confuse me with a shiny boater... ;-)


Jim Davies said...

Compton was one of the first places I came across the canals - as a teenager spending my summer holiday in Wolverhampton in 1966. Don't laugh - we usually went to Sheffield!

The bus from Tettenhall into the town centre passed through Compton and it seemed then to be a village apart from the urban sprawl of Wolverhampton. The Swan pub looked enticing - even though I was too young to go in and get a drink.

Went back by boat for the first time last year and your post summed up my feelings exactly.

Nb Starcross

Carrie said...

Simon the candlesticks ARE fine aren't they! They were black with a dodgy gold pattern done with a shaky hand (i recognise the style ;-), so I painted them green and possibly made them dodgier still.

Hello Jim. I hadn't come across your blog before so thank you for coming to say hello! I passed your boat a couple of times (lovely colour) and will wave if I do so again.