Driving through the village on 30th November, there was no need of a calendar to recall Saint Andrew. The village green is laid out in the saltire pattern of the flag of Saint Andrew, the patron of our parish church. The green is crossed by the nearest thing we have to a main road, though even if does not manage the status of a ‘B’ designation. When I was young, the level of traffic was sufficiently light to allow racing my bicycle around the corner without fear of collision.
In the bicycling years, I might have named the families living in every house in High Ham; well, in the ordinary houses anyway, it was hard to know the people in the big houses, they had little interest in schoolboys on bicycles. Little seemed to change, though it, of course, did; it was just that when you are a child, time lasts very much longer.
There was nothing remarkable about our area of Somerset. With the exception of Glastonbury, now world famous for its pop festival, few people would have heard of most of the places. “Undulating lowland”, the geography teacher called it. Some of the undulations were steeper than the picture of gentle rises and falls might suggest, particularly when pushing a bike up them, but it was a fair description. Much of the countryside around had been under water until the reclaiming of the levels; the county’s name derives from the fact that it literally was “summer lands”, in the winter the pastures disappeared.
No-one famous had ever come from our village; no-one famous had lived in our village; being honest, it was hard to think of anything significant that had ever happened there. If somewhere could have been noteworthy for nothing ever having happened, then we would be well-known.
Travelling through the village, were it not for cars along the roadside, the time could have been any in the last thirty years. “Unchanging” hardly expresses the continuity of the place.
Perhaps it’s being unchanging, unremarkable, undulating, that gives somewhere an English quality. These are the people who go to work every day, paying the taxes that allow the Government its adventures; these are the custodians of the landscape that is passed from generation to generation. It is these small, anonymous, and unremarkable places that provided the soldiers for generations of wars.
The village, and its innumerable counterparts across the shires, provide Chesterton’s people of England (though even Chesterton would have been viewed with suspicion in our village). Unmoved in generations, it is their capacity to cope with every circumstance that allowed the most stable political regime in the world – a country not invaded in nine hundred years, a country without a revolution in more than three hundred.
Passing through the village, there is a sense that those who have retained intact so much of the past are a people not be underestimated.