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Open Features: Going Home - Part 1

Jane Cranham returns to Little Blessant where her father was once vicar, the village where she grew up. And there she meets...

To find out who you will have to wait until next Monday to read the second part of Betty McKay's engaging story.

Jane Cranham came back to Little Blessant almost forty years to the day she had left, and entirely by chance. Heading for Oxford, she had taken a wrong turning and there was the sign-post. It was ten past twelve on a fine autumn day. She had been on the road for three hours and was hungry. Small though the village was, it must still possess a pub. Now she was here, she would finally go back home.

Ten minutes later she turned her Fiesta into the car park of the Blessant Arms, thinking wryly that if Ken had been driving, she wouldn't have seen the sign-post. He would never have taken a wrong turning.

Later, sitting in the garden of the Blessant Arms, she sipped a lager and remembered that last birthday party, the week before they'd left the Vicarage forever. There had been those eager-faced youngsters sitting round the table on the lawn. She didn't have to think too hard to put names to the faces: Tess and Denise Ballard, the doctor's dark-haired twin daughters; Francie and John Evans, rosy cheeked and round as butterballs, from Dale farm; red-headed Barbara Bellamy and Janny, her little sister, and the gardener's three leggy sons, Lee, Eddie and Kit.

Especially Kit – he had been her best friend since the day they started school together. They had withstood the teasing until everyone finally accepted that best friends were what they were. How pretty her mother had looked, doing what pleased her most. Nobody gave better parties than Mum.

At that moment the barmaid arrived with her sandwich. On an impulse Jane said, "It's very pleasant here, do you take guests?"

"Yes we do. Would you like a room?" Jane nodded, "Yes, please."

"Right, I'll see to that after lunch," the girl said as she returned to the bar.

When Jane phoned Gemma, she laughed. "You've gone back after forty years. Goodness me, Mum, it must be the gypsy in you. No, of course we don't mind a bit, though your granddaughter might. No, I'm only kidding. She's actually grinning at me, and showing-off her new tooth. You enjoy yourself. See you soon."

After lunch Jane collected her suitcase from the car and went upstairs to her room. It was pretty with a sprig-patterned counterpane and curtains, and on the deep-set window-sill stood a large bowl of fresh roses. Jane unpacked her nightdress and laid it on the pillow.

Closing the door, she went downstairs and into the High Street. There was hardly a soul about. A young mother walked along with a pushchair, preceded by a small boy on a bicycle with stabilisers. She gave Jane a smile and said, "Mind the lady, Peter."

The village still had a shop; the names above the door were Henry and Louise Duncan. Jane wondered what had happened to the Philpotts. She saw it was now also a Post Office and was licensed to sell wines and spirits. What had been the village school was now the Village Hall, with window boxes and hanging baskets outside.

It was essentially, she realised, a Victorian village. The row of cottages were a mass of climbing roses and the gardens full of early autumn flowers. A gentle hum filled the air where late bees and butterflies busied themselves amongst the Michaelmas daisies and sedum.

There was a new building set back off the road - 'Health Centre' the notice proclaimed. She looked at the names of the doctors; James and Joanna Ballard headed the list of four. Good heavens, James had been a baby of eight months when she'd left. He'd been a late and much longed for son.

Her spirits rose. There was continuity here. This place was thriving. It wasn't a village of second homes. She realised the bigger children were at school in Great Blessant. It was quiet because it was mid-week, and she remembered that Wednesday was market day in Cranton, the nearest market town. It had always been quiet in Little Blessant on a Wednesday.

Jane’s heart lifted for there ahead was Saint Oswalds, the church where her father had been the vicar. Walking through the lychgate and up the path towards the church, Jane thought how unchanged it all was and how wonderful the church looked against the autumn colour of the trees, timeless and forever. There was a notice on the church door:

Little Blessant - Saint Oswalds
Early Communion will be held here
Every Second and Fourth Sunday
in the month by the Rev GA Barstow,
Vicar, Great Blessant - St Mary's.

That's sad, she thought, it's only a part-time church now. Dad wouldn't have liked that. Turning the handle, she pushed open the heavy oak door and walked in. The air was cool and smelt of beeswax polish and candles. The brasses gleamed in the light shining in through the stained glass windows. The flower arrangements were exquisite. This church didn't look neglected; it looked loved and well cared for.

She decided to take the side path out of the churchyard and walked up past the Vicarage garden. Her heart beating wildly, she looked over the gate and saw how prosperous the house now looked. Much grander than when her parents lived there. Like so many old vicarages, this one had obviously been sold off and gentrified. Jane sighed, 'Has it been a mistake, my coming back?'

She was just going to move, when she heard a man's voice say, "Excuse me."

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