When I was nine, growing up in The Butchers Arms, Mickleton, a religious sect from California moved into the large property over the road. This was a rather grand building, whose privet hedges kept my sister’s stick insects in food.
It was called The White House, due mainly to it being painted white, not through any resemblance to certain other white houses, except it too was inhabited by American nutters.
The White House, Mickleton, near Chipping Campden, Glos nutters were at least taking their cue from the more positive aspects of spirituality- peace and all that, rather than some Old Testament vengeful git of George Bush or whatever Barak Obama is supposed to represent. They were Californian head cases rather than rabid Christians and/or closet Islamic Jihad, after all. I gather there’s a difference, although I’m astonishingly ignorant about such things. I went to California once and it resembled some car park by the sea through which astonishingly large people wandered, shopping.
Checking out their website, it says that
The mission of Emissaries of Divine Light is the spiritual regeneration of humanity. We believe this to be the most pivotal factor in the world today.
This may sound fair enough now, but at the time it was mightily disturbing to the villagers, supping pints of cider in the bar.
So, they were in touch with their spirituality, but did this give them any right to go about looking so insufferably smug? To an isolated, rural community (there was no bus service- my parents had two cars which I wasn’t allowed to drive, being only nine; I had a bicycle, but it was a Grifter, so even going to the shops on it was an effort) it was like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
To combat their undeniable sinister takeover, they went on a charm offensive, inviting all the kids in the village to attend their prayer meetings. This annoyed the vicar of St. Lawrence’s no end, who up until then had had the monopoly on indoctrinating the youth with fairly sinister nonsense.
When they started buying up several large properties in the village, including the mansion house, the national media came knocking.
Well, ringing. I guess.
In any case, Newsnight on BBC2 carried a special report, all of it done to the theme tune from The Archers, and delivered in a strong West Country accent (which was wrong anyway because this was The Cotswolds and a bit less burry- a technicality, maybe, but geography is geography), giving the nation the tale of superstitious, rural folk menaced by a strange new force that they didn’t understand and didn’t much care for. Much of it was filmed in the pub.
Outside the pub, my dad was interviewed as a prominent local businessman. He loved that. He wore his blue blazer with gold buttons and frothed at the mouth about these outsiders coming here and invading the local community, which was a bit rich really because he was from Birmingham.
It cut to the Emissaries. Who were they? What the bloody hell did they want?
“Well, we believe in peace,” (or something), droned a guy with a beard (I’m dredging this from memory: I taped over the VHS with Raiders of the Lost Ark a few years later, in protest at my parents’ divorce). He held up a fuzzy felt picture he swore was Charlie Brown, shown in a wheelchair with his leg in a cast.
“Why are you so resentful, Charlie Brown?” Beardie Weirdie asked, in the kind of voice reserved for kids and dogs, leaning in to take in the answer should one be forthcoming.
“See,” he carried on, as the picture didn’t respond, “He’s got this broken leg of resentment, but he needs to lose that. He needs to heal and move on. Yes, sirree. Charlie Brown needs to get out of that chair and smile.”
At this he nodded to the interviewer in a sagely manner, which was undermined slightly by Charlie Brown’s fuzzy felt leg falling off.
Life for a while was an uneasy coexistence. Me and some of the other kids would cycle up and down in the lane outside The White House, just should anything funny kick off, but because I had a Grifter I got tired out after about ten lengths.
The only eventful development was NBC News turning up from America to do an item on the cult. They pitched up a camera on the pub car park and filmed a couple of hours of us kids riding up and down. So maybe I got on American TV, struggling with the hefty weight of my Grifter, maybe not. The NBC archive doesn’t seem terribly accessible to members of the general public.
More Emissaries moved into the village. The place became like a Stepford movie thing, all happy Californians in jump suits bobbing up and down the lane with the blissed-out smiles of those who had entrusted their whole essence, including bank details, to some Supreme Being or other.
Just as it seemed the village was about to be destroyed by the Emissaries’ disturbing grinning, the sect scaled back operations. I think the IRS possibly clamped down back at their spiritual home on Sunshine Ranch following allegations against the leadership of sexual misconduct, drug taking and all the standard things one would expect to get up to running a cult. I could well be mistaken in this, however, should any members end up reading this and fancy suing me (I don’t have anything to sue anyway, so good luck with that).
They had to sell up practically everything, except Mickleton House which they now hire out for conference facilities to help pay for the loony brainwashing.
The Manor House got turned into luxury flats when it was sold off, so, in the end, the village got destroyed by a much worse force than the Emissaries.