Nigel Haddon moved into Much Willow-Upon – Ouse in September 2007. He’d spent twenty successful years in the city and had just completed a messy divorce. Both, he considered, were excellent reasons for getting out of the big smoke. What had attracted him to Much Willow was that it wasn’t populated by people like him, retired or semi-retired escapees from the city. It’s inhabitants were locals, farming stock, shop keepers and crafts people. There was even a small factory making bent wood furniture.
Another good reason for choosing Much Willow was that it was unlikely to be visited by his ex-wife. It was not ‘chocolate boxy’ enough for her. It didn’t have that ‘olde worlde’ charm that in reality had probably only ever existed in romantic novels and 1930’s movies. There were no wee shops selling overpriced bits of old tat, most of which had probably been made in china the year before. It was quite attractive, if viewed on a summers day through sunglasses. But most of the time it was what it was, just a pleasant place to live, filled with, on the whole, good honest people.
Much to his friend’s surprise he had been absorbed into village life without the predicted insistence on being able to trace his ancestry back to the doomsday book, the need for six fingers on each hand, or the requirement to prove family incest. This rapid assimilation was down to the fact that Nigel was basically a good bloke. He was successful to the point of being well off, not that anyone would know just how well off. He lived a comfortable life without being flash. He drove a top of the range middling car. He furnished the house with carefully chosen pieces, which if the real thing would be expensive, but could also be repro. A discerning eye might recognise the watercolours on his wall as originals, but to the non discerning they might just be prints. He’d also thrown himself into village life, joining the pub darts team, sponsoring prizes at the village show and even getting the village school a good deal on laptops through a city contact.
So it was in March 2010 that he found himself striding down the main street to a meeting of the village council, having been voted on a few weeks earlier. Not council as in the official governmental type, but council as in a group of locals who organised the social life of the village and kept it ticking along. As he passed the village store he was joined by Henry Jones-Appleton, the current chair.
‘Ah, Nigel, looking forward to this evening?’ Henry said as he clapped Nigel on the shoulder.
‘Yes of course. Although, I’m still somewhat surprised that people wanted me on the village council. After all I’ve hardly been here five minutes.’
Henry chuckled. ‘Well you know what they say. One volunteer is worth ten pressed men. And let’s face it not many were volunteering.’
Nigel nodded. ‘True, but even so.’
Henry opened the gate and ushered Nigel down the path to the church hall. ‘Well you’ve adopted Much Willow as your home and it seems Much Willow has adopted you. Were not quite the, ‘you must have at least three generations buried in the church yard’ types, unlike some villages I could mention.’ Henry opened the door. The lights were on and it was warm inside. ‘Ah good for Mrs Perkin’s,’ he said as removed his jacket. ‘And look there’s even a plate of biscuits.’ Henry sat at the head of the table and took out a thin file and a Laptop. He was just opening up the latter when three more of the village council arrived. Within five minutes there were seven of them.
‘Right,’ Henry said, smacking both palms on the table. ‘Let’s make a start. Mr Pollard, ready to take up the cudgel of your new post. Pen poised, ready to make the village quiver over your elegant prose.’
Jerry Pollard shook his head, grinning in return. ‘Just get on with it Henry. You say it, I’ll write it. Or at least a version of it that I think is fit for publication.’
Henry leant towards Nigel, who had sat next to him and held a conspiratorial hand up to his mouth. ‘You see what I have to put up with,’ he said in a loud ‘off stage’ whisper. Henry then cleared his throat theatrically and turned his attention back to rest of the committee. ‘Anyway, first things first. I think we should welcome Nigel to our august little group of worthies.’ A ripple of good natured greeting spread round the table, ‘glad to have you’; ‘welcome on board’; ‘do you know what you’ve let yourself in for’; ‘don’t mind him’; and ‘we’ll try not to keep you awake’. Nigel nodded and smiled in appreciation.
‘That’ll do,’ Henry said. ‘We don’t want to make the lad think we were desperate, even if we were.’ He glanced down at his laptop. ‘So first on the agenda what’re we all having?’ The village hall was conveniently situated between the church and the pub. ‘We’ve got to get through it all somehow.’ Henry explained as Jerry rang their order through. Five minute later a young girl arrived with four pints of bitter, two glasses of red and one of white.
Henry sped through the agenda with practiced efficiency so that by nine o’clock all manner of village minutiae had been dealt with. They’d identified people with waders, who might be pressed into clearing the pond. The new equipment for the playground had been selected. Two new best of show categories had been agreed upon from five suggested. The best ‘worst behaved pet’ was rejected. Much as they all liked the idea they agreed that none of them would want to be volunteered to judge it.
Henry drained his second pint of the night. ‘Finally, the weather,’ he said.
Michael Patterson’s hand went up. ‘Well I think I can speak for the farmers when I say we’ve had enough of this dry cold North Easterly and we could do with perhaps a warmer South Westerly, bringing a bit of rain with it to help the crops take.’ There was a general murmur of agreement around the table, with the exception of Nigel who watched on in puzzlement.
Henry tapped his fingers on pursed lips. ‘Yes, a bit of warmer weather wouldn’t go amiss now we’re into March, even if we have to put up with some rain. It’ll give the gardens a good start as well. So, that’s agreed then?’ Around the table the others nodded their consent.
As the table cleared and people said their goodbyes, some only to reconvene in the pub, Nigel turned to Henry. ‘Can I ask you a question.’
‘Ask away,’ Henry said as he unplugged his laptop.
‘Well you all talked as if you could change it.’
Henry zipped up the computer bag. ‘Change it is perhaps too strong. Influence it may be nearer the mark.’
Nigel shook his head. ‘Sorry, I’m still none the wiser.’
Henry put down the bag and placed a hand on Nigel’s shoulder. ‘Tell you what, come with me.’ Henry led Nigel across the hall and through the door into the church. After a brief grope and several clicks, lights popped on and a dim yellow glow spread down the knave. Nigel had never been in a church at night before. The meagre illumination somehow enhanced the silence and accentuated the dusty smell of old stone. It was as if he could sense the centuries that had been absorbed into the fabric of the building. It knew things, but would never tell. Their footsteps echoed ahead of them as they headed down the aisle and into the tower. Up half a dozen steps and they were in a small square room. A central bare bulb cast harsh shadows.
‘Right,’ Henry said, rubbing his hands together. ‘A little education into country ways. You know the weather vane?’
‘The cockerel thing on top of the tower that tells you which way the wind is blowing.’
Henry sucked in a breath. ‘Well that’s correct as far as it goes. Look over here.’ Where Henry was pointing was a brass dial about two feet across with the points of the compass round it. There was also an arrowhead pointer, which was wavering a little, but essentially hovering over North East.
‘Fine,’ Nigel said. ‘It tells you which way the wind is blowing.’
‘Yes,’ Henry said. ‘And for you city folks that may be it. But for us more tuned to nature and country ways, there’s a bit more to it.’
‘I’m still not with you.’
Henry stepped over to the wall and fingered the dial. ‘See here, next to the dial is a handle.’
‘I don’t know, and thought you were a clever chap. What do think happens if you turn this?’
‘Well,’ Nigel said. ‘I guess it turns the weather…’ He paused. ‘Wait, you’re trying to tell me you can rotate the weather vane from here and change the way the wind blows?’
‘No, no, Nigel, change is too strong a word. As I said before, influence, given the right circumstances.’
Nigel looked away from the handle and back to Henry, then back to the handle. He started laughing. ‘Oh I get it. This is the new boy joke. Like sending some kid down to the stores for a long weight or a left handed screw driver.’
Henry frowned and shook his head. ‘No, it’s nothing like that, I promise.’
‘So you’re telling me that if I turn this handle now, the wind’ll change direction,’ Nigel said reaching out for the cracked and polished bit of wood.
Henry grabbed Nigel’s hand. ‘No, not now. It’s like anything else in life. If you want to influence something, you have to pick the most opportune time. In this case, that’s when there’s only a gentle breeze.’ Henry steered Nigel back into the Knave. ‘Look, I know you don’t believe me, but I’ll be back here about 6.00am tomorrow to move the weather vane. Early morning is usually when the weather is at its calmest. If the conditions are right you can witness it with your own eyes, OK?’
‘Oh sure, if the conditions are right,’ Nigel said, putting his hands together in mock prayer.
Henry laughed. ‘I told you before, you city folks don’t know everything. Just be here.’
The next morning Nigel arrived outside the church just before six. He still thought he was being stitched up but he came anyway. Let them have their little joke. It was clear and cold with a light breeze coming from the North East. Perfect, from what Henry had said. However, there was no sign of him. Nigel looked around. There was bound to be someone hidden away with a camera to record his humiliation. Then it would be in the council news letter, ‘new boy caught in village’s oldest joke’. He was just contemplating going home when Henry appeared round the corner.
Henry grinned. ‘You came then. Ooh and you’ve brought binoculars, good idea.’
Nigel scowled. Yes, he thought, even better for the news letter.
Henry patted him on the shoulder. ‘Well let’s get on with it.’
‘While the conditions are right,’ Nigel finished for him.
‘Exactly,’ Henry said, beaming. ‘You wait here and observe, I won’t be a minute.’
Nigel watched Henry stride down towards the church to the accompanying sound of crunching brogues on the gravel path. He took out the binoculars and struck a suitable, hapless pose for the photographs. Studying the Weather Vane, it was clearly old. The rusty cockerel was crudely shaped when seen at close quarters. At the base were, what Nigel believed were called runes. Viking perhaps, he wondered. It certainly wasn’t any writing he recognised. As he watched it shuddered, then turned one hundred and eighty degrees. Thirty seconds later Henry emerged from the church and crunched his way back to Nigel. Nigel looked up at the trees. Nothing . The breeze had died.
‘Well?’ Henry said. Just then a few leaves skittered across the road, from a South Westerly direction. They both watched them tumble past their feet. Henry grinned.
Nigel shook his head. ‘You could have just watched the weather forecast of course.’
‘What and timed it that well? It’s a hell of a coincidence don’t you think?’ With that Henry marched off in the direction of his home whistling what Nigel recognised as the theme to ‘The Great Escape.’ swinging his arms in time to beat. ‘See you at the next meeting,’ he called back. ‘Oh and if you’re going out later I’d take an umbrella.
Nigel watched him go, then glanced up at the cockerel. The wind from the South West was strengthening.