In one of those small dawnings of rural realisation, I’ve suddenly become aware that if the new-to-us purchase is successful tomorrow, we’ll likely be travelling incognito for some time, since nobody will recognise the car!
Course, as Neville Pringle noted at the Co-op the other day, I’m already in disguise as my wispy beard struggles out. But even moderately camouflaged, it’s been nice to get out and about just a little, as strength returns. As for the car, after six years and ever-increasing repairs, it’s time to replace with a low maintenance, low petrol-consuming vehicle that can still get us up the track in snowy conditions. Bring on the new-to-us Fiat Panda 4×4!
After our old Morris Minor became impracticable, some 25 years ago or more, we moved into Fiat 4x4s, with studded tyres no less, that clawed their way up the glaciated track with the aplomb of a mountain goat. Today’s 4x4s are a deal more advanced than those little tin boxes ever were, and so we may pick up a low mileage vehicle from a dealer down in Darlington, and put paid to repair bills, we hope, for a couple of years anyway.
But when and if we do drive back home in the little Fiat, having exchanged the brilliant green bakery livery for a dull contemporary green, nobody will know us on the road. There’ll be no cheery waves from oncoming friends, no acknowledgement by acquaintances, just puzzled late looks as the passing car drivers wonder, ‘Who on earth was that waving at us?’ It’ll be like being strangers in a strange land, at least until recognition dawns, and we’re finally recognised again: ‘Oh, they’re in a new car!’
But the little Fiat looks like being relatively inconspicuous as well as being new and strange, so we may find that we’re unknown for some time yet to come. We can slip on into Hexham and nobody will know we’ve gone! They do say, of deeply rural villages, and of course it’s true in Allendale: if you don’t mind living in your neighbours’ pockets, life is great. Here everybody knows everybody else’s business, health condition, family challenges, vehicular status, recycling punctiliousness (remember Annie Bishop’s ‘walk of shame’ comment about a visit to the bottle bank), and just about anything else that identifies us as ourselves.
Indeed, the common currency of village life is ‘What’s happening?’ and if you don’t have any news to contribute, the conversation doesn’t get very far. Some might find the currency a burden, preferring the privacy conveyed by urban lifestyles, but on the whole, I think folks like to be known, to be looked out for, enquired after, waved at from passing vehicles even. In a village, it’s good, so good, to be known, in that quintessential way as Goose Baynes once said to me, when I was seeking to pay an LPG bill, to my inordinate pleasure, “Don’t worry, you’re known.”
Sure you have to keep your copybook clean; I remember my chagrin when Jack Gowlands remonstrated with me over my ‘flogging that car’ as our Morris Minor slowly succumbed to the inevitability of travel over these rural roads. But redemption is almost always available too. Though memories are long, most people are happy to give folks another chance, if slip-ups occur. We’re all only human, after all, and the oppressive cloak of being known for our misdeeds can be thrown off. Especially in Allendale, I’ve come to realise, it’s more a case of ‘live and let live’ than timid people from outside might realise.
Sometime over the next weeks and months, then, we’ll be identifiable again on the road, as passing drivers put the car together with its occupants, and normality will be resumed.