Vikings, please do not pillage our village

'Is it not written in the Good Book that we should cultivate our own garden?'
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The Independent Online

There was a man out in our village the other day. He had a tank on his back and a nozzle out the front, and he was spraying. Spraying little weeds on the pavement, so they would curl up and die, or at least never be able to have children. And then I knew that that time of year had come again, the time of the Best-Kept Village Competition, the time when notices go up on the village noticeboard saying: "We have been entered for the Best-Kept Village Competition. Please everyone do their best to keep our village tidy, you never know when the judges will be here."

There was a man out in our village the other day. He had a tank on his back and a nozzle out the front, and he was spraying. Spraying little weeds on the pavement, so they would curl up and die, or at least never be able to have children. And then I knew that that time of year had come again, the time of the Best-Kept Village Competition, the time when notices go up on the village noticeboard saying: "We have been entered for the Best-Kept Village Competition. Please everyone do their best to keep our village tidy, you never know when the judges will be here."

I have never seen the judges, unless - yes, perhaps, unless they are those men and women in very dark plain suits and dresses who very occasionally walk up and down the village, like invigilators in an exam. I had always thought they were Jehovah's Witnesses, because one of them came to my door once and asked if I was all right with God, and I said I was fine; I had a private arrangement with God: I didn't believe in Him, and He didn't believe in me, at which the Jehovah's Witness looked slightly bemused and went away. But surely a proper Jehovah's Witness would be unlikely to accept my flippant joke at face value, and would be tempted to stay and save my soul? Isn't it much more likely that he wasn't a Jehovah's Witness at all, but a judge for the Best-Kept Village Competition, judging undercover?

After all, there are some of us who feel pretty agnostic and atheistic about Best-Kept Village Competitions. I am one of them. I don't much like litter blowing about the place, but, on the other hand, I don't like wonderfully tidy villages, either - I went to Castle Combe last year, the so-called prettiest village in England, and I won't be going back again soon - and I like the way villages grow and decay and grow again. I like flowers growing out of walls, especially red valerian and ivy-leaved toadflax, and I like village noticeboards that have so much condensation inside their glass that you can't read the out-of-date notices inside, and I like abandoned bits of farm machinery here and there. I like a village to be more like a junk shop than Habitat, in fact.

So I might just get in a quarrel with a Best-Kept Village judge if he came to my door disguised as an evangelist...

Him: Hello. How are you with God?

Me: Don't give me that God malarkey. You've come to judge the village, haven't you?

Him: Well...

Me: Judge not, that ye be not judged! Is it not written in the Good Book that we should cultivate our own garden?

Him: I think you'll find that comes at the end of Voltaire's Candide.

Me: And that is the very Good Book I am talking of! Now get out of here before I go to the next-door village and throw litter around, thus unfairly sabotaging the marking!

Him: ( Getting a bit shirty) OK, wise guy, would you rather your village wasn't well kept? Want to live in a mess?

Me: I think our village should be left alone. It should be allowed to be natural. I think there should be a Best-Left Village Competition; we would have a good chance of winning it. Now leave my premises and take that Bible with you!

Him: It's not a Bible, actually. It's Pevsner's Guide to Wiltshire Buildings with a fake cover.

Me: Get...

Him: I'm going!

Me: ...out!

Our village has done something good this year, actually, which very few others can have done. It had a Millennium Exhibition at the church, because the church (or parts of it) is over 1,000 years old, and it was built at a time when Vikings were still marauding the country; there are marks on the old door that people like to think may have been caused by Vikings trying to get in at the terrified Saxon folk seeking sanctuary inside.

One thing is for certain: I bet they didn't have Best-Kept Village Competitions AD1000. What they may have had is strangers in sober clothes going up and down the high street, knocking on doors and asking if people were right with the Norse Gods and, if they weren't, robbing and killing them. And then leaving notices behind saying: "This village has been entered in the Best-Looted Village Competition. Please do not attempt to clear it up. The judges will be visiting here very soon."

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