You have to love small-town newspapers and news reports. You know the ones I mean. They often use the words, “CHAOS!”, “MAYHEM”, “PANIC” or my personal favourite, “TERROR” in their headlines, and often in capital letters too. The ones with photographs of scowling parishioners or a man-hole with traffic cones in the middle of a single lane road, with a high-vis clad gentleman standing on the side of the road, arms folded.
I attended a town meeting once: my baptism into the small-town community and how they deal with things. The town had recently lost its main artery of life-giving through-traffic and pleasantries, when our faithful tunnel that covers the main road into and out of Beaminster collapsed after a particularly rough rainy season, unfortunately resulting in the death of two people who were passing by at the time.
The tunnel, which had now been out of action for several months, was on everyone’s agenda and the council were faithfully trying to provide open and transparent updates to all affected, and openly invite questions and feedback from anyone who had something to say.
The town meeting, held in the Town Hall, which can accommodate 240 seated guests in the main hall and an additional 80 in the adjacent room, was heaving. Townsfolk had turned out in droves, with queues of people heading out of the hall and into the street – all with the aim to hear what the authorities in charge of the tunnel restoration had to say. My Englishman and I were part of the few youngest there by about 20 years, but we felt determined to be part of this community – and be part of change. And more so, to hear what our local future held for us – with local businesses in dire situations and nearing the end of their “savings for a rainy day” purses with many struggling to keep their doors open.
As the council engineers and representatives methodically went through their PowerPoint slides, the townsfolk listened intently while every so often individuals scoffed and shook their heads. It was only towards the end of the presentation and the invitation for questions when the event truly became comical. Armed with invisible pitchforks and flaming torches, those who had voices wanted them heard. Despite heated debate, a few dramatic exits complete with Final Word Declarations, a few guffaws and a hand-clap or two, the meeting adjourned, and just like that, we all went back to our own lives and own routines.
Walking home, while munching on a chili stick we’d bought from a local Biltong supplier, my Englishman and I pondered the almost Shakespearean scene we’d just witnessed. And although comical and emotive which actually had us more amused than frustrated, we appreciated the determination and upset of the local residents. We understood their annoyance, but most of all, we felt compassion towards the businesses in the town who relied on the passing trade and it was in that moment that we made the decision that we would do something to become actively involved to promote the town for what it DOES have, and not focus on what it DOESN’T.
The air was slightly cool, with a slight hint of wisteria following us all the way up North Street. And amused as we were, we felt somewhat proud to be part of a community who were so determined to make something work. The proof of the pudding would naturally lie in what happened next. Telling would be in the difference between the Talkers and the Do-ers, and in the determination to get stuck in to turn a dismal, truly chaotic event of mayhem, and panic, into one of empowerment, productivity and most of all, triumph.
Now THAT’s a headline I’d like to read.
Hopefully I still will.
In the meantime, I’ll endure the continuously newsworthy articles of stolen teddy bears and car wing mirrors.