Notebook: Last call for the jelly shop

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BY THE SCHOOL, down from the church, next to the pub: here it is, thatched and low and charming, the village shop. But these are troubled times for the home of coloured jelly, corned beef, rubber bands and lonely packets of prawn curry. Recession and the big shops in the towns are biting deep. Only 25 per cent of English parishes now have a shop; and despite the government package of advice and training measures announced last week, it might not be wise to bet on a happy future.

The less sentimental and more robust, scanning the shelves and gasping at the prices, might argue good riddance. But cease such thoughts under the thatch of the Post Office at Great Tew, Oxfordshire, where Alison Barker is having a go at making it work. None of your rubbish on Ms Barker's shelves, even if the sandwich spread and the dog mixer are a bit slow. She has been here 10 months and is just breaking even. Prices are high, but she pays more for her stuff in the cash and carry at Banbury than shoppers do in its supermarkets.

'The village shop,' says Ms Bar ker, 'has an awful lot more to offer than groceries . . . you are ripping them off when they come in, because it's cheaper in the supermarkets, but they don't get served there . . . and they don't get a friendly face.' And there are the old people who can't get to town, and the tables for teas, and the talk. Gossip? 'When I came here I made it plain to the warring factions that I didn't want to know anything about it. You can't take sides. I have had two people who haven't spoken to each other for 15 years in here talking to me without acknowledging each other.'

Great Tew is the village that Major Eustace Robb tried and failed to keep tied to his estate. Now about a third of the homes are second homes. Down the lane was John Kench's butcher's shop, where Mr Kench, born and bred in the village, 31 now, butchering since 13, was bullish about his prospects. In Little Tew, without a shop these several years, a charming woman was unshakeable about the need for one. She turned out to be John Kench's mother. Ah, village life.

(Photograph omitted)