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February 22 , 2008

Cross and Poppy: A Village Tale


Trollopean clerics, comic peers with hidden depths, the villagers of a thousand cosy English novels … but in a very modern world: our own.

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The Woolfonts – Woolfont Parva and Woolfont Magna, Woolfont Abbas and Woolfont Crucis – are, on the surface, the sleepiest and most chocolate-box villages in the West Country, indeed, in all England.

On the surface.

The duke of Taunton, whose title testifies to James II’s roving eye, is the leading figure, running things from behind his mask of comic, peppery eccentricity (and effecting his ends largely through his superbly competent, respectable, and much-respected butler, Viney, who serves as his fellow churchwarden). Sir Thomas and Lady Douty do their bit, grumblingly. The jovial, genial Simon Kellow, down the pub, keeps the real ale flowing (and keeps wicket for the village XI when wanted, under the duke’s OE captaincy), quietly reminiscing upon his youthful travels to the North and the Midlands for Northern Soul all-nighters. The villagers are a contented lot, and with cause. It’s a peaceful district. The Free School is the best in the country, under Headmaster Trulock and such staff as young Mr Sher Mirza, the English master and a noted expert on English classical, church, and choral music … who won’t actually perform it, being devoutly Muslim. The celebrated ‘Hipster Chef’, Cheshire-born Teddy Gates, another young incomer, has transformed the old Woolford House Hotel into a Michelin galaxy, loyally supported by his lover, early-retired and painfully outed Man City striker Edmond Huskisson. The Hon. Gwen Evans – scrumptious though she is – has her mind only on the horses at her Woolbury Stud. And everyone’s young mate, Brian ‘The Breener’ Maguire, the Irish-born former England cricketer, can (sometimes) be torn away from Teddy’s nosh to coach the village XI, and still more the School’s, in the nets.

In Salisbury, the Bishop, with some exasperation, has given way to the duke’s rights of presentation to the Woolfont benefices, and the parishes contentedly await the arrival of their new, Anglo-Catholic priest, the young widower Noel Paddick, from far-off Wolverhampton. He’ll be just in time for the village fête and, after, the Village Concert, before the solemnities of Remembrance Sunday and the Advent season thereafter.

No one expects death, bigotry, persecution, fire, storms, and attempted murder to enter into a quiet village tale.

And no one expects an unlikely love triangle, or that a bittersweet attachment – bringing both pain and grace to the new Rector and the English master alike – shall play out, before the sympathetic villagers, between the Summer fête and the crosses and poppies of Remembrance Sunday.

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