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Country Boy

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The air is filled with grey clouds spliced together by the strong wind. In the distance are the high hills.

East Budleigh, Devon

I walk through the village along a ribbon of tarmac. I turn right and walk towards Hayes Barton.

For those not familiar with the area, Hayes Barton is where Sir Walter Raleigh was born.

He was the man who was imported potatoes and tobacco into Britain; the man who rather fetchingly threw his cloak onto a puddle so that Elizabeth the First could walk across with dry feet.

In fact, if I look behind me, I can see a painting of the scene coloured upon a wooden board and swinging in the wind.

I wander past the rows of new houses, tucked out of sight behind the high walls that guard the old heart of the small village.

I smile, because I know I will soon be in the hills, weaving through the trees and the fields; walking along the tracks, criss-crossing the huge expanse of countryside that spreads ninety miles towards Bristol.

My mind is becoming young again.

The dim glow of radiation from the computer screen is fading and my electronic glory is being replaced with the fresh wind and clean air.

Coming towards me are four people. They're not locals. I know that even though I only live in the village for a few months at a time. You never get four locals walking together; sometimes you may get a couple, or maybe even a family, but that's rare.

In the High Street (which is a misnomer if ever I heard one) you can walk together with other people but stray from there and you walk alone. That's the deal.

The group think green wellies disguise them, but they don't.

I nod at them.

That's another part of the deal of living in a village. You have to nod at people for a few years until you get to know them. Then you have the right to talk to them about the weather. Then, only then, you may be trusted with a few pieces of carefully-chosen gossip.

It will all be monitored with more care than lies disseminated by MI5; and any that you talk about, without a doubt, will be traced back to you. If you want to know whether they approve of the indiscriminate spread of knowledge, I really don't know - I'll let you know when I get there.

The members of the group smirk knowingly. They think I'm a thick country boy. They think they can smirk at each other and I haven't got a clue what's going on. They probably think that I think London is 'somewherez past Zomerzet.'

They probably wouldn't believe me if I told them that within four hundred metres of where we stand there are teachers, business people, entrepreneurs, photographers. They would, however, believe me if I pointed to the adjacent farm and told them, 'I workz there, I doez'.

I smile back.

"Excuse me mate," one of the lads says.

There are two lads, and two girls.


I stop and stand about five feet away from their London gathering.

"Do you know when the pub's open?" he asks, referring to the public house decorated with the Sir Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth scene.

The others watch me with interest.

I have to admit, I do look a state, but there you go.

"What's the time?" I ask, after foolishly checking to see if I've got a watch on; thus furthering my image as a Devon version of Peter the Goat Herder.

"Four o'clock," he replies.

"It should be open," I say, "It's normally open all day Saturday."

They look at each other with amusement.

"Well, the door's locked," the lad says rather emphatically. "And the lights aren't on," he adds, to reinforce his argument.

I have to admit, it is rather convincing.

"Well, listen mate," I say, now in Devon-Cockney mode, determined to permanently change the way they perceive simple country folk.

"Just go and knock on the door and ask the landlord when he's opening."

"Thanks," the two lads say, and they walk off in their survival huddle.

I turn around and see that they are all laughing. Then I realise it's Friday, not Saturday.

I better go and see what's going on with my tractor.

By Carl Appleby.

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