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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

The Open Air Museum

Two years ago, our village was purchased by English Heritage to be used as an open-air museum of southern English middle class life. The plan was to capture lifestyles before they passed away.

I and my family had more to learn than many as we were some of the few working class villagers living in the council houses. The wrecked and rusting Lada which had been a feature of our drive for some years was the first thing to go. The local council had been threatening legal action, but English Heritage were much more friendly, arranging for the vehicle to be towed away and replaced with a new ‘people carrier’ exactly like the ones in neighbours’ drives. They also cleared the old bedstead and other refuse from the back lawn and rebuilt the garden to include decking, a water feature and some strange architectural structure - the purpose of which I have not, to this day, ascertained. They also sent us to classes on how to talk and eat correctly.

I gave-up my job with the council and am now paid to spend my days wandering around the village, taking to other villagers and answering questions from the public. Part of my role is to engage in loud conversation with fellow villagers when the public are in earshot using one of a number of pre-prepared scripts. I hate horses, although the regular sight of them ridden through the village remains a useful prompt to buy dog food. Despite this, one of my scripts relates to how well ‘Emily and Samantha’ have done at the local gymkhana and the rising cost of hay. I have learned to carry this off rather well, I think. I have also learned how to compare the specifications of several types of ‘MPVs’ in the most tedious manner possible and discuss the minute detail of products available at the local DIY superstores and garden centres. Following intensive training, I am now even able to bore people rigid with how well the children are doing at school, their prowess at music and, of course, their riding skills. I start the ‘Foreign holidays made mind-numbing’ course next week.

Recently, I mastered the art of ‘competitive conversation’ where each of a group of middle class men must covertly boast of some aspect of their own achievements in the context of a seemingly normal conversation. When in doubt I talk non-stop on ‘The plans for the extension’.

All aspects of middle class life are included, and hidden domestic violence, infidelity and sexual deviation all feature in the scripts though, thankfully, do not need to be performed in public. For completeness, one in four villagers are playing a role of being off work with depression and stress. The remainder of us form long traffic queues in and out of the village each day whilst complaining about public transport.

Now the Museum is established, we can be assured that future generations will never forget the southern English middle class lifestyle.