There is a list of things a typical English village must have it seems... including a village green, village pub, village school, village post office, and village shop. These make up the quintessential village, especially if you ask outsiders. But it also has to have a village eccentric. You know, the mad old woman who lives alone in a tumbledown cottage with her cats, shaking her stick at anyone who trespasses into her garden. Or maybe the old gent fallen on hard times, who sits and talks to himself about the good old days, occasionally shouting at strangers from his spot on the bench outside the pub.
And of course, this village is no exception. Allow me to introduce you to Phoebe. In her youth a beautiful young woman, with the kind of looks much beloved by artists.. doe eyes, curly red hair, creamy skin never allowed to be kissed by the sun. I have seen photos of her, being one of the few people she will actually tolerate long enough to have a conversation with, and believe me, she was absolutely stunning. Even now, you can see remnants of this, her skin smooth and creamy still, despite her age of 'somewhere between 80 and 90, shall we say dear?' according to her.
What most people don't know is that she was once married, briefly, to an Army officer, who turned out to be a bully and treated her like one of his raw recruits, turning her from a vibrant young woman to a quiet young woman who wasn't allowed to express her own opinions but to kowtow to his. It didn't last of course, and it was with relief she isn't ashamed to admit, that he died during WWII. The whole experience put her off marriage, but not men by any means. She had affairs with an actor ('always put on a stirring performance!' she would tell me, with a twinkle in her eye); the son of a very wealthy landowner who was friendly with the Royals, or so he told her; a politician ('he liked the sound of his own voice that one!'); and several other men who were charismatic, romantic, interesting, and exciting in their own way, including the local poacher. I did ask, how good a poacher was he if everyone knew who he was, but she thought I was being impertinent and refrained from answering, something she often did when the question was not, in her view, worth answering. He was her 'bit of rough' apparently, something she said all women like, rarely admit to liking, and even more rarely do something about. I refrained this time, from commenting!
Well, people in this village call her eccentric because of the way she dresses, her protests over the years about this and that, the fact that she keeps to herself, gives short shrift to anyone she considers a waste of space to use modern language, which she would never do. Phoebe is incredibly well spoken, loves the English language and hates the way it has been corrupted. She is very intelligent, an intellectual, who did an Open University degree course, achieving her degree in her seventies. She painted the outside of her cottage lilac, the only painted cottage to be seen around here, which wouldn't have been too bad but the window frames were all different colours, turquoise, scarlet, green and yellow. As this stands apart from any other housing, surrounded by her little copse and orchard, nobody complained. She has plastic flowers amongst the rambling roses, the gypsophila, the asters and nigella. And of course a few cats, all Persian.
Anyway, Phoebe's latest rant as the villagers call it, has been about a fir tree which was due to be cut down simply because it's branches overhung the road and could be dangerous. Major Hutton, whose house is nearest the tree, was the one who told Phoebe about it, they get on quite well at times, and said he would not be sorry to see the back of the vermin. The vermin being grey squirrels, who had built their summer drey on one of the stout branches, a perfect ball of twigs and so on, covered with leaves and mosses, beautiful in its way. And Phoebe thought the same, so she got in touch with the leader of the Parish Council, who said it was nothing to do with him, and referred her to the Highways department at the local council. Phoebe wrote letters to the local papers, the councillors, and generally got a bee in her bonnet about this drey, though nobody knows why as she hasn't been averse to having vermin like this humanely trapped, if there is such a thing.
But nobody, not even Phoebe, knows why she gets wound up about some things, but in the end, when letters were ignored, phone calls never returned, she invited the local papers to watch her climb the tree to protect the squirrels! This caught everyone's attention of course, and who knows if she would have gone through with it if it hadn't been for the council having a change of heart and deciding just to get rid of the branches overhanging the road, leaving the rest, warning Phoebe meanwhile that they wouldn't be held responsible if it were lopsided now and blew down in the next gales. Which satisfied Phoebe, but didn't much please the Major!