One of the cliches about small rural communities is that everyone knows everyone else's business. And like most cliches, this one is based in truth, as I have been finding out in the last few months.
One reason is that many people are related to each other - families that have been in the area for hundreds of years in many cases have intermarried into a tangled tapestry of threads that is often hard to un-knot. I was recently cautioned by a fellow in-comer, 'Be careful what you say to one person about another - you never know whose aunt or cousin they may be!'. This seems to be wise advice.
As an in-comer, I have found the level of interest in other people's lives both sweet and touching - these people care about each other - and also somewhat bizarre and unsettling. My elderly neighbour, for example, loves to ring me up when there is a funeral and tell me all about the deceased, their virtues, vices, peccadilloes, likes and dislikes, even if I have no idea who she's talking about. And then she will tell me who was at the funeral, what they said, what they wore, what they thought about the deceased... again, I only know a fraction of the people she is talking about and often feel like an unintentional eavesdropper. Discomfort arises when she tells me about the things people have done that she disapproves of. I am clearly supposed to condemn these poor strangers for their sins, even though I know only my neighbour's version of their shortcomings. Mostly I umm and ahhh noncommittally and hope she'll soon find another topic.
Most discomforting of all is the recent realisation that I too am the subject of neighbourhood gossip. For example, at the end of last summer - more than a year after T and I had split - I was invited to a wedding. My invitation included a 'plus one', so I asked IB (who I had been seeing for several months by then) to accompany me. The wedding was lovely, I knew about a quarter to a third of the people there and was introduced to many more. When we returned home, a friend who hadn't been at the wedding rang to say that before the wedding had even finished, a neighbour (who also hadn't been at the wedding) rang her to ask why I was at the wedding with a man who was Not My Husband. Someone else - presumably a wedding guest - had rung him to report on my presumed infidelity and brass neck in showing off my fancy man to all and sundry. What really amazed me was that anyone who actually knew me, knew that T and I had split, and that I had started seeing someone. Surely only people who know me would be interested in my private life? Obviously that isn't the case!
Subsequently, I have met people locally for the first time, and in beginning to converse with them have found that they already know I'm divorced, where I live, that my parents have recently moved into the area... in short, they know exactly who I am and quite a lot of detail about my private life. I find this all quite bewildering. How can I be so interesting that perfect strangers are exchanging details of my life with each other. Why would they even want to know?
Perhaps I'm strange in not being that curious about other people. I take an interest in the lives of people I know, but I can't get my head around the notion of nosing into the affairs of strangers... or perhaps that's it. Perhaps I'm no longer a stranger, perhaps I have taken my first step onto the (long) ladder of being accepted as part of the local community. That is a nicer way of framing it!
Either way, I have taken perverse delight in throwing petrol on the gossip inferno by allowing the son of another neighbour to park his car on my drive for the time being. It's a simple 'helping each other out' scenario - he needs somewhere to park his SORN*-ed vehicle, and it benefits me to have a car parked on the drive even when I'm not here so it looks like there's someone in. However, I am now a Divorced Woman (and we all know what they're like...), IB is still on the scene, and now another single man's car is parked outside my house... I can just imagine what they're saying down at the local Tafarn**
"Have you heard about that Moonroot at Halfway Up A Hill - what a hussy! Well I never - do you know, she..."
* SORN = Statutory Off Road Notice. In the UK, when a car is not licensed it is issued with a SORN, one condition of which is that it is not parked on the public highway.
** Tafarn - Tavern or pub.