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Cotswolds

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more


It was another quiet day in the Cotswolds. Tourists happily browsed the knick-knack shops and stood admiring the sandstone brickwork of the pretty little village of Broadway.

Above, a first floor window suddenly exploded, spraying broken shards of glass onto the shocked shoppers below. There was a stunned silence. The broken glass was quickly followed by torn sheets of paper and the contents of a man’s wardrobe. “You bastard!” hollered from the window, not the shrill shriek of a woman upset, but one of vengeful anger, a woman scorned. A pair of trousers, snagged on the porch roof and fluttered in the wind as another coach load of American tourists went by.

Broadway, in the Cotswolds, is a perfect postcard of an English village. Situated in a valley of rolling green hills, the local villages complement the natural surroundings. Built with the local warm yellow Cotswold stone, the villages – and Broadway in particular, are the sort of sight you’d expect to see on a chocolate box or a Christmas card. It is a calm and tranquil sort of place perfectly suited for recharging your batteries. You can enjoy a leisurely walk, or maybe put your feet up and slurp down a cream tea. Our own bed and breakfast was so damn civilised that when we arrived, we were offered not only a pot of tea but also accompanying slices of lemon drizzle cake.

But as a pair of uniformed policemen, wearing black flack jackets, marched past, it was clear that there was more to pretty Broadway than met the eye. Peace and calm was swiftly restored to this crown jewel of English tourism as the locals swept away evidence of the disturbance. Their visitors went back to the necessary business of supporting the local economy in the pursuit of posh kitchen utensils and souvenirs.

A minor domestic fracas for lunch was followed by an after dinner chat with an aging ex-RAF officer. “How old do you think I am?” demanded the old gent, leaning forward in his best suit and waistcoat. It’s always wise to knock a few years off your best guess and Amy flattered him with a guess of sixty years. “I’m eighty-two!” he beamed, clearly thrilled at his ability to age gracefully.

“Used to be in the RAF - best damn pilots in the business!” you know, “I was disciplined once, for flying my plane beneath a suspension bridge. Trying to impress the banker’s daughter!” he explained with a mischievous wink. “I was in a lot of trouble, but Bomber Harris took me to one side. He said we wouldn’t have won the war without chaps like you and bought me a half!”

Illustrious company indeed, here we were enjoying an after dinner chat with a man who’d been bought a drink by the man, celebrated and damned for reducing half of Germany to rubble.

These days our new friend was the owner and manager of Langhams, one of the THE clubs to be seen in London. He chatted on about the ‘boys’, referring to Princes William and Harry, regular customers of his. Although, I noticed we didn’t get the royal invite…

Wining, dining and dancing with his customers had kept him young. “Take my advice”, he said. “Never look back, always plan for the day after tomorrow.”

It wasn’t the day after tomorrow, but the next day, when we visited the village of Painswick, a village that has been celebrating its ‘clipping service’, a tradition lost in the midst of time.

A few months previously, the village had been badly affected by Biblical floods and when we arrived, was still marooned by flood damaged roads and a horrific traffic redirection system.

This fact was not lost on the local Methodist Minister, who asked that we pray, not only for the local businesses, but also for Africa, the hungry, the needy – and the media? It turned out that he had a regular God slot on local radio and was drumming up a little shameless publicity. Radio Cheltenham probably needs all the help it can get.

We sat in the graveyard of St Mary’s parish church, amongst the family mausoleums and surrounded by its famed yew trees, cropped to look like lollypops. But the clipping service had nothing to do with the clipping of the trees. Clypping is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning embracing. There were few other visitors so we joined in the service, holding hands and forming a circle around the church with the villagers, swinging our hands in the air and mumbling to the words. No one is very sure how old the service is. In its current incarnation it began in 1899, but it dates at least as far back as the medieval times. Yet, there was something almost pagan about standing outside the church amongst the trees and holding hands, so perhaps the service is older still.

There was one disappointing absence from the event though. I had read of Painswick’s ‘puppy pies’ where the locals bake a small ceramic dog into a cake or pie to celebrate the day. There was no such surreal baking that day, only a variation on a hot cross bun. “Oooh, we don’t do that,” explained a friendly Mum who’d spotted us pair of interlopers. “But many years ago, I think it was Henry VIII - or some king, arrived in Painswick and there wasn’t enough food. So, they slaughtered the local dogs and baked them in a pie.”

“We’re not stuck in the past though,” she explained. “We’ve lots of pups [children] here and everyone pulled together when the village flooded.” Despite celebrating its ancient traditions, Painswick had put their own twist on the old gent’s advice and were looking to the future whilst embracing the best of their past.

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more


20/03/2008

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