As with any place, my village has a recognisable soundscape. The church bell, the defining, encompassing call to the community, only rings before a Sunday service, and only on one note. There is little traffic, but tractors rumble through on their way to and from the farms. A cock some three hundred yards away, starts crowing at around four every morning. My neighbour’s chickens more softly cluck as they turn over leaves looking for food. Another neighbour is incapable of addressing his garden without a power tool in his hands. If the wind is in the west, we can hear the cattle munching across a field on the other side of the river. And of course there is birdsong, crowned by the mewling of a pair of buzzards high above the house and from time to time the rhythmic beating of a skein of geese commuting from lake to lake. It’s a familiar mix of the natural and the mechanical age.
But then the suggestion was made that households come out onto the street at 8 p.m. on a Thursday to applaud the health workers risking their lives in the fight against Covid 19. I have to say that I did not regard this prospect with enthusiasm. Such acts of unspontaneous, collective enthusiasm do not appeal. I am a reserved, professorial Englishman. We are told that the Italians are singing arias to medical staff from balconies. No balcony here, and I can’t carry a tune. However, Charlotte persuaded me out of doors and we duly clapped. Then we stopped, and to my amazement I could hear the sound of applause all across our dispersed village. It was an oddly impersonal noise, a little like rain drumming on a tin roof. Unlike the banging of saucepans and shouting out that has happened in towns, it was a quiet gesture, but it seemed boundless. A sound like no other this village has heard in its thousand-year history. We have a couple of GPs, a hospital consultant, and several health workers in Shrawardine. If they were home, I hope they were cheered