Every village used to have a church and a pub. Now it has an all-night BP garage and a massage parlourby Jeremy Clarke / February 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Until fairly recently, every Devon village had a large, square police house, inhabited by a large, square policeman. There was also a vicarage containing a vicar, a primary school, a village store, a post office, a chapel and at least one pub. Our village also had its own blacksmith’s shop and Women’s Institute-both thriving until the second world war, when they were blown up by the US army, which had occupied the village prior to D-Day. (The Americans also trained heavy artillery on our parish church-an ugly, mid-Victorian edifice-but regrettably the damage was only superficial.)
Most of these old village institutions have gone forever. But “out with the old and in with the new” is what I say, and there are two new rural ubiquities which now, it seems to me, characterise British village life at the end of the millennium. One of these is the dazzlingly-lit BP petrol station and convenience store-a God-send for out-of-hours cigarettes, porn mags and smoky bacon-flavoured Hula-Hoops. Our BP station is now the cultural centre of the district-it’s quite trendy to be seen there-though many of us have yet to become accustomed to the startling green and yellow neon lights which blare out across an adjacent turnip field at night.
The other recent cultural phenomenon is the rise of the rural massage parlour. As recently as a year ago, if I felt like a “personal” massage, I’d have to drive all the way to Plymouth, about an hour away; a long way to travel for a J Arthur Rank, I admit. But today I can look in the back of the local Free-Ads paper and scan advertisements for massage parlours situated in nearby hamlets and villages. There is not (alas!) one in ours yet, but it can only be a question of time. If the recession in the local dairy farming and crab fishing industries gets any worse, and holidaymakers are deterred by another wet August, we’ll all be on the game before long.
The weekly, southwest edition of Free-Ads is a remarkable publication. It is bright yellow, and printed on unusually porous paper. Old copies come in handy for cleaning windows. As well as being an emporium of second-hand items, many of them poignantly mis-spelled, it is also a noticeboard for personal messages, lonely hearts ads, new-age health fads, forthcoming events, council house exchanges, and flimsily disguised ads for prostitution of all…