Can you see how the villagers have put it to good use? It is in the centre of the village, so they have put a noticeboard inside for the village events, and also use it as a 'book swap' store. You can help yourself to the books, as long as you leave the same number of books as you take. This system seems to be working very well, because all the shelves are full and the books look in very good condition, even the childrens books.
The phone box is left open, even though Shirley attracts lots of walkers and tourists. No doubt the villagers benefit from fresh books when the visitors have finished with their holiday reads :)
I had a conversation with one of the villagers, a complete stranger, whilst waiting for my friend to arrive. He was telling me the history of the village, which had records as far back as 1086, when it was owned by the de Ferrers family. Most of the hundreds of years in between the land was owned by descendants of the same family. The current Earl Ferrers now resides in Norfolk, and most of the land has been sold on.
It is fascinating how slowly things change, and how constant things are. This village has been around for a thousand years or so, with a church, pub and a few farms and houses, that may have been re-built in brick a few hundred years ago, but are essentially the same village. Invasions, wars, plagues and industrialisation have hardly changed it. It is amazing and it makes me wonder how much can really change in something as short as my lifetime?
Whilst walking, my friend Sonia asked, 'Do you really think that Peak Oil is still happening?'. Eight years ago we both firmly believed it was, but business as usual has dragged on so long now, and big stories of how fracking will save us fill the media, so I can understand why many people are questioning.
I have no doubts about Peak Oil happening, but looking at the permanence of Shirley the question on my mind is 'What would peak oil change?' Or even 'What would a financial collapse change?' The land is constant, the fields and woodlands will still stand, along with the stream flowing past the abandoned woodmill. The fields have cattle grazing, just as they would have over the last hundreds of years, and probably will for the next few hundred. We will still need to eat, there will still be farming. Maybe the village will sprout some cheap labourers cottages, the wood mill will be occupied once more and the countryside will have a growing population rather than a declining one, as more people are needed to work on the land.
I don't know how things will pan out, but talk of extinction, an epidemic of violence and people only looking out for themselves, seems completely alien in this land. I am looking at the evidence around me. I am talking to my neighbours, people I meet out walking or in shops, or just random strangers anywhere, and they are polite and helpful. Just try it in your neighbourhood as a bit of a social experiment - ask the time, pretend you are lost, or say you are looking for your cat or have lost you keys. I would love to hear how you get on.
We didn't recognise the route we were taking for our walk, so after asking 2 or 3 walkers, we accosted a gentleman on horseback to ask directions, and he was most helpful. He didn't really know where the footpath we were trying to find was, but he happily told us that the shoot was over for the day, so we were in no danger if we got lost!
Will Peak Oil or financial collapse change people's nature for the worse? Not in a place like Shirley.