It was a brisk Spring day in Chipping Norton when Rupert Parsons, vinegar man and repairer of clocks, decided to step up and defend the honour of his much-loved home town.
Fed up with snide comments in the National press about the idle and privileged lives of Chippy residents – if only, you might think – this ECN member decided to pick a bone with the Guardian journalist who’d just fired the latest bullet.
Rupert, owner of award-winning Womersley fruit vinegars, was one of many who bombarded the Guardian with complaints after Sam Wollaston’s TV review of Channel 4’s Benefits Street, replete with the headline: “But look at the community spirit, you don’t get that in Chipping flipping Norton, do you?”
Mr Parsons, however, was the only one game enough to invite Sam to visit the town he had just dissed. Ever the gentleman, Rupert was determined to prove that you can live in Chipping Norton, embrace its challenges and its blessings, and retain your manners after being blasted with yet another cheap media shot.
“You are hereby cordially invited to visit our community of Chipping Norton”, Rupert tweeted the errant Sam. And with the weight of numbers behind him – an avalanche of outrage from chipped-off residents was already pouring in to the Guardian comments box – how could the journalist refuse?
A Chipping Norton Upset
Visit he did on 20th May, checking out Chippy’s highways and byways, lanes and lidos, bookshops and drinking holes. And what did he expect to find? Jeremy Clarkson deciding whether to drive a Porsche or a Ferrari into the Lido swimming pool? And David Cameron clopping through town on a thoroughbred nag fresh from the stable of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks?
Poor Sam Wollaston. He is still in shock, after stumbling on a Labour voter (Lido trustee Claire Jarvis), a Green voter (our own Rupert Parsons), a muesli-eating Guardian reader (independent Councillor Jo Graves), council houses, food banks, amiable alpacas, and so much community spirit sloshing around that it made him quite delirious.
But we do understand. It takes time to get your head around the fact that a town can be multi-facetted, multi-race and multi-voting, with hardship and bounty existing together as a truly mixed blessing. Doesn’t it?
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
In an article published in The Guardian after his visit, Sam said sorry – in his own inimitable way, of course.
“What’s become clear is that Chipping Norton doesn’t just have it, community spirit is Chipping Norton’s middle name. Chipping frigging community spirit Norton. I was wrong, I’m sorry.”
Which is a Guardian kind of apology, I suppose, and always better than none.
Thoroughly worn out with all the apologising he’d had to do that day, Sam slumped in the back of Tahirul Hasan’s taxi on the return trip to London via Kingham Station. He wanted only calm, quiet and simplicity after his mind-boggling day out.
What he got was excitable Tory Councillor Tahirul – “a taxi driver in a people carrier from Bangladesh”, according to Sam – Oxfordshire’s only non-white councillor who thinks David Cameron is a “wonderful person” and who loves living in his “very friendly” town . . . brimming over, of course, with community spirit.
We think that Sam is feeling a little better now . . .