I grew up in a small Cotswold village called Mickleton, a place so obscure that, to this day, letters sent to residents must include not only a postcode but the line ‘Near Chipping Campden’ or they will be ‘lost in the post’- i.e. chucked in the bin by someone at the sorting office.
Even after the introduction of postcodes, Mickleton still soldiered on with three-digit phone numbers until well into the Eighties. Ours was 285, which was exciting because BBC Radio One also had 285 in its number, but theirs being a London number, it had 6 or 7 digits, enough to make our young minds giddy. And every time they did the Radio One phone number jingle, my sister and I would sing along like it was actually our number and we were famous or something.
For an age, the introduction of longer phone numbers was fiercely resisted by the locals. They insisted that the traditional way of dealing with having such a small telephone exchange had worked for previous generations and would go on working so long as folks continued in their time-honoured way. This consisted of an angry local mob driving away any and all newcomers, particularly city folk. However, such outsiders couldn’t be held at bay forever. Especially when the angry local mob had had a few pints of cider and couldn’t be arsed anymore.
In a masterstroke, my parents subdued the suspicious locals by infiltrating the village as landlord and landlady of the Butchers Arms pub, thereby supplying both cider and a fruit machine to the local rabble. Much as a modern-day meth head might bitch about his dealer but keep coming back for more, begrudgingly our family became an accepted feature of village life.
As a small child, I was fascinated by these cider-drinking sons of toil, mistaking their drunken ramblings for the wisdom of the ages. I remember a conversation I had with them when I was eight in which they all jeered at my claim- repeated from my school teacher- that people were animals too. “We’re not bloody animals! We’re mammals!” they roared with laughter.
I tried to point out that mammals are animals also. But I got told to go to bed, where I lay sleepless, suddenly aware that even though I was only eight, I was still probably more intelligent than most of the adults I knew.
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Mickleton is chiefly famous for being the northernmost village in Gloucestershire and is located in an awkward taint of county boundaries which means it is a stone’s throw from both the Vale of Worcestershire (sprout pickers) and South Warwickshire (ponces). Local landmarks include two pubs, a couple of shops, a church and an old-fashioned phone box that somebody’s pissed in.
Looming over everything is Meon Hill, the first outlier of the Cotswold Hills, a ridge that runs south-west to Somerset like an awkwardly displaced spine. Meon Hill was the site of a gruesome murder by pitchfork of a suspected witch in 1945. But as it happened on the other side of the hill, Mickleton’s claim to this would appear tenuous at best. Let Lower Quinton have it. God knows, they need something. They’re even less famous than Mickleton.
Mickleton is also infamous (I wanted to say ‘famous’ but it isn’t really and considering what I’m about to speak about, ‘infamous’ is a much better word) for the Mickleton Hooter, a terrifying supernatural entity described as being, variously, a headless cow, a ghastly hooting sound or a large and spectral but well-formed tittie.
According to F.S. Potter, writing in Folklore – A Quarterly Review (Volume 24, 1914), the Mickleton Hooter is some kind of goblin or Belhowja that
had his haunt in Mickleton Hollow (sometimes called Weeping Hollow), a deep, wooded glen which runs up into the Ilmington Hills, above the village of Mickleton. Accounts of this fearful being having been seen are not wanting, but as a rule he was only to be heard, and that near midnight. His howlings, yellings, and shriekings are reported to have been heard by very many persons ; among others by my maternal grandmother and her sister, who, when returning late in the evening from Hidcote Bartrum to Upper Stoke, had to pass close by the head of the Hollow. The sounds which they heard were enough to alarm them very greatly.
From my own experiences as a Mickleton child, I can confirm that ‘howlings, yellings and shriekings’ often woke me around midnight, causing great terror and anguish.
But that was just my parents having a drunken row before bedtime and, while spirits were involved, they tended to be of the vodka variety.