I also saw another neighbour – we’ll call her Ava -- who rides her bike back and forth to the village, rather than pay for a car. We can see each other’s houses in the distance but our paths only cross every few weeks, so when they do we catch up on our lives and relatives.
“It’s amazing the number of people around here who have died lately,” Ava said. “Mick went into the canal last year, Tommy up the road died of cancer, my cousin across the canal died last month, and his wife died a few weeks later – they’d spent their lives together, and she didn’t want to live without him.”
“I knew your man died,” I said – locals say “your man” to mean “the man.” “I didn’t know he was your cousin – I’m sorry.” It wasn’t that much of a surprise to me, though – everyone here is related.
“You’re seeing the closing days of this area,” she said. “All the people are dying off, and they are the last ones who remember the place as it was.”
It was true – a lot of people had died lately. It reminded me of something Dmitri Orlov had said, that after his country had been through a time of stress he looked at his high school class photo, and realised that many of them were dead. Each death was isolated and natural, and didn’t seem part of a larger pattern. But you look back one day and see that a whole generation was gone.
Of course, in his case, his country had been through a time of collapse, and many of the deaths were from stress, drinking, drugs or other problems. Across my part of the USA, I can see this happening among the class that one writer calls the Unneccessariat, as people are increasingly demoralised. Here, it’s not quite the same – most of our neighbours were elderly, and it was their time. But the death and transformation of a community still creeps up on you.
“Won’t their children or grandchildren move in?” I asked. “That’s what most people here do.” All along the canal, family farms have been broken into lots, with a home for each of the children.
“It won’t be the same with the younger people,” she said. “The whole country’s changed. When I was a child, no one had anything here, and you wouldn’t believe how happy people were. But since the boom, people have actually been poorer than before, and a lot less happy.”
“Most people wouldn’t say they were poorer,” I asked. “Back then they just had a few possessions, and now they have big televisions and video games and such.”
“I think that’s what’s making them unhappy,” she said.