Letter to the Editor in response to last month's Straight Talking
Kit gives a robust response to the comments made in last month's Straight Talking.
To the Editor, The Village Pump
It's his poor wife I feel sorry for, having to live with such streams of ill-thought-out, ill-informed and inaccurate drivel. I won't do as my lawyers suggest, and sue: for that would be to dignify his ignorance. But let's get a few material facts right, shall we?
Yes, the beauty of the Great British Way is indeed that we are able to say what we think. This is meaningless, however, if the speaker is too cowardly to put his name to his opinions. 'Name And Address Supplied', he calls himself. (When last I asked you, the Editor, to supply just that, you told me that the writer had decided to maintain his anonymity. Cowardice is neither great, nor British.)
So: Name And Address Supplied calls my house, Park House, a 'giant concrete abomination with it's (his misspelling, not mine) cold grey exterior and "fake" stone blocks etched into the wall.' Well, he's entitled to his opinion. Even Sir Niklaus Pevsner, who devotes a paragraph to it in The Buildings Of England, calls it 'somewhat forbidding'. But that is how the Micklefields built it in 1770. It's not concrete: it's Grade II-listed Georgian render; the blocks are what architecturally is called 'quoining', and I am not allowed legally to change it. We are restoring it gradually, as villagers may have observed. But how graceless and rude to share that opinion. If ever I discover which house he lives in, I trust I shall have the good manners to keep my opinion of it to myself.
Name And Address Supplied brackets me with the 'outsiders' who 'wish to see the Mill closed'. Outsider, indeed? My family has lived here since the 1680s; six times longer than Favor Parker or Grampian. I myself have lived here considerably longer than this ignoramus. I have seen the number of local mill employees shrink to 10% of the workforce in its heyday. (Consider their lot against the adverse effect that the Mill, industrial dinosaur that it is, has on the lives of the total number of villagers). I have seen the owners change from semi-benign paternalistic landlords to remote and disinterested Scottish accountants. I have seen (as, let's face it, we all have), the horror on the faces of visitors to the village that the Mill was ever allowed to expand to such a size, on such a site. Even so, Name And Address is wrong again. I do not wish to see the Mill closed. I would like it to see it moved, to a more appropriate site nearby, perhaps at Wissington. Until then, I would like it quite simply to obey the environmental laws of this land.
But if ever Grampian were to move, from where does this buffoon extrapolate his foolish prediction of the crime-ridden sink-estate that must replace it? And how dare he insult the youth of this village, whom I find in the main far better-mannered, less drug-addled and plain nicer than their peers in most other parts of the country? Certainly Downham, like Ely, has suffered from insensitive modern development (though none so insensitive as the Grampian Mill itself). But that is why it behoves us to monitor very closely what is planned here for the future, and to make our voices heard as a united village, so that we are not exploited by developers. How crass, how destructive, to try and whip up divisions now!
To suggest that we will 'spoil Stoke Ferry for all eternity, sell up and move' is not only wrong (my children were born here; they would like to see their children born here too), but, my lawyer points out, libellous.
And how niggardly to pour cold water on the manifold efforts by so many villagers to bring off the Stoke Ferry Festival last September with such success! Of course, such a major undertaking, done for the first time, will have minor glitches; but all those to whom I spoke said that they had had a great day. I don't know why you, the Editor, feel that you need accord space to this mean-spirited rubbish.
The most serious, the gravely libellous, charge, is that money raised for the Residents' Association is being spent on the former church, which is now in my private ownership. This is a lie. They do not, as he wrongly writes, 'financially support' the building. I have accepted nothing from them. They and others who use it (village music groups, village committees meeting, private individuals, concert stagers, photographic exhibitors) pay a contribution (which I subsidise) towards the cost of electricity while they do so: nothing more.
This fifteenth-century building, to which the people of Stoke Ferry had for centuries been giving their time and money as the centre of village life was under immediate threat of becoming a mechanics' warehouse. I felt that that was a betrayal, and that every effort should be made to keep it going, as a chapel and as a meeting-space: dual functions that it continues to fulfil. The few pews which weren't rotten and useless with damp, were salvaged, apart from four 1920s benches from the choir gallery which was being remodelled and were too wide for the main building. Yes, it is perhaps wrong still to call it 'the church', in its new incarnation. (I wanted to rechristen it Donthorn's Hall, after its Swaffham-born architect.) But if the villagers choose to persist in calling it The Church, then why make such a pompous, petty fuss?
Name and Address grumbles that, in view of the fact that we have a Village Hall and a Community Centre, Stoke Ferry does not need another meeting-space. London does not need forty theatres: Norwich does not need sixty churches. But for as long as they are viable, are they not a nice thing to have? The other spaces are still being well-used. This is not a competition. And is it not nicer that the villagers still can use it, rather than seeing the building which their ancestors worked and paid for locked against them?
The Resident's Association, I understand, paid a hundred pounds for some old stackable plastic chairs. These belong to them, not to me. The lean-to for their storage (replacing an earlier shed which had decayed) will be built at my expense, not, as this fool presumes, at theirs.
Finally, Name And Address Supplied implies that 'while appearing to work on behalf of the village', I and others are 'lining our back pockets with [villagers'] money and 'quietly destroying our way of life'. This is such hysterical nonsense that I think would be kinder to disregard the whole embarrassing article. I do hope however that you, The Editor, are responsible enough, and aware enough of your legal position, not to print any further garbage of this nature, and remain,
Kit Hesketh Harvey