Strange and unexpected

The three houses have all changed now, of course. Perhaps they are no longer even separate houses, perhaps they are all part of a single dwelling. The high stone wall that has appeared prevents inquisitive minds from knowing the answer.

The only clear memory is passing the window of the house that adjoined the road. It was a warm summer’s evening in late August and the theme tune of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected floated into the night air.

It seemed a tune that matched the mood of the time, that captured a sense of a village in which there were plenty of stories of the strange and unexpected.

Villagers had for years ¬†heard stories about hippies and all the weird stuff that went with them and no-one believed a word of it. The hippy stuff seemed mostly about men getting what they wanted. A man was caught growing cannabis and was fined for his efforts, a prosecution that confirmed villagers’ views of hippies. Even at the time, it seemed a small infringement of the law compared to the hundreds of gallons of scrumpy cider that were made and sold each year without a single penny of duty ever being paid.

There was more strangeness among the local people than among outsiders. Superstitions, beliefs in ghosts and spirits, the supernatural was taken for granted. Even stranger were some of the people who lived in isolated spots and who regarded the entire world with suspicion and hostility.

The unexpected came often in the stories of those who seemed outwardly plain and conventional. Those who were in their twenties in the 1940s were still only in their fifties in the 1970s. There were ordinary people who had seen and done extraordinary things. A quiet pensioner would talk of being in Normandy in June 1944. Another man would recall wartime missions as a gunner in an RAF bomber.  A softly spoken silver haired man on the village green would tell of his days as a housemaster in a public school; decades later in another country he would be remembered with affection.

Perhaps the unexpected manifested itself most in the years that would follow that summer evening. While life unfolded unexpected changes, there would be times when a year would pass between visits to the village, the cost of travel and the limited time off making more frequent trips impossible. On each return, there might be some incremental change in the place, but these were scarcely noticeable if one had been there throughout the year.

Perhaps the unexpected, though, is not the change, but the continuity: houses, farms, roads that would match their 1970s selves. If the strains of the opening sequences of Tales of the Unexpected was to be audible in the night air, it would be no surprise.

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