Why city living will never compare to having a close-knit Suffolk community

PUBLISHED: 16:38 16 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:38 16 March 2020

Monks Eleigh Village (c) Martin Pettitt, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Monks Eleigh Village (c) Martin Pettitt, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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When the pipes burst, or the fence falls down, be glad you don’t live in the city, says Jan | Jan Etherington is a journalist and comedy writer of radio and TV series. Now living in a village somewhere in Suffolk...

February can be a depressing month. Lots of things seem to crack, burst, leak and break down – mostly me, when I realise my New Year Resolutions are in tatters, as I clank to the bottle bank, sobbing.

Alright! I admit it. I haven’t managed full three days each week without reaching for the Rioja. Neither have I entirely given up cake and biscuits. I’m munching a Dark Chocolate Digestive as I write this – with another one beside my coffee cup. Okay?

But, like Ronnie Corbett in the Big Chair, I digress. I don’t want to tell you about my chronic lack of self-discipline. I was going to talk about burst pipes and blocked chimneys.

City folk will tell you that whatever you want or need, there’s a number to call, 24/7. Indeed, when I interviewed Barry Manilow in New York (name drops are falling on my head – sorry) he said, “This city never sleeps. You can get pizza at 4am.’

Who wants pizza in the middle of the night? But that’s the trouble with city folk, they convince you you’re missing out on things you don’t even want.

If you live in a metropolis and need help in a crisis here’s what’s likely to happen. When you phone you won’t get a person, you’ll get 12 ‘options’, then you’ll be tortured with a continuous loop of Enya’s Orinoco Flow – only hilarious if you’re a plumber.

Incidentally, (I’m digressing again) why, if you have to hold on for ever and ‘your call is important to us’, can’t they allow you to personalise your song choice? ‘Press 1 for the Rolling Stones, 2 for Rachmaninov, 3 for Stormzy’ etc.

We’d all be a lot less tetchy, when we finally got through to the call handler, if we hadn’t been bombarded with The Girl from Ipanema for 40 minutes.

Next, as one of my London friends recalls: “I was given a ‘time slot’ which was convenient to them, not me and told there’s a call-out charge of £75. Three days later – nowhere near the time slot – a useless twerp turned up, with no clue what to do, claimed he hadn’t got ‘the parts’ and vanished.” So different from my Suffolk village.

Last Sunday, my smoke alarm started beeping. Not the ‘take that bacon out from under the grill and open the back door!’ ear-splitter, just a high-pitched, short beep, every minute.

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Possibly the same pitch as a dog whistle, because my setter kept jumping up and rushing to my side.

Even I realised it was probably the battery getting low but I didn’t fancy dismantling the alarm in case the aforementioned ear-splitter was triggered.

So I texted James Miller, the supersparks who installed all the electrics in our house. He phoned me right back and, while I stood on the ladder, talked me through the procedure (“Poke the screwdriver into the gap, push the base away and replace the battery”) then went back to his family lunch. Bless you, James.

When black smoke came out of the boiler extractor fan, Aubrey (who’s trying to retire but we won’t let him) was round within the hour giving it the service it should have had in August.

The fence that hides the bins blew over and Butch put it back up in his lunchbreak. Wayne’s got a big van for moving things and is brilliant at everything from gardening to fixing a wonky loo seat.

And if the gutters need clearing, Shane the window cleaner, scoops them out while he’s doing the top windows. All part of the service.

I’m sure there are lots of advantages to living in a city but prompt and personal service isn’t usually one of them.

It’s wonderful to live in a community, to quote the Cheers! signature tune, ‘where everybody knows your name’. And we’re always glad they came.

So, when I have a problem, who am I gonna call? Yep, James, Aubrey, Shane, Butch, Wayne.

No ‘options’ or endless Enya, and they’d never dream of demanding a call-out charge. Because they all live round the corner.

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