Box sets, Bicycles and Banjos
It is not obvious, unless you have carefully surveyed street maps old and new, that the part of the A350 that runs through Shaftesbury and extends from the Ivy Cross roundabout to the junction with Barton Hill is known as ‘Little Content Lane’. Though buildings that face onto this stretch of road are sparse now, there was a time, long ago, when Little Content Lane boasted a sizeable population.
The majority of them took exception to the name and wanted it changed. “It demeans us,” they said. “We really don’t understand why it should be so named, we did not participate in the process of naming it and we think it ill serves our town.” It came to the point where they felt that something had to be done. It happened that Christmas was coming and the last thing they wanted was for Santa to get the wrong idea about their neighbourhood. Why would he and his elves deliver anything of substance to Little Content Lane, when they could bestow their presents on Great Lane or Gold Hill? Something definitely had to be done. They put up notices all around Shaftesbury calling for a special meeting of the Town Council.
At the time, the Mayor of Shaftesbury was, in fact, a mare. This was the result of a local squire stating: “Sooner my grey mare than any of those lefty liberal types!" and pulling the necessary strings to ensure that in the event of such an emergency, Mayor Mare would be appointed. Under Mayor Mare’s rule, any progressive or even vaguely sensible proposal was met with a chorus of nays. For those who preferred the status quo, it was indeed a whinny-whinny situation.
Now the people of Little Content Lane had amongst them a champion, a man by the name of Horace Oats. Horace Oats made a careful study of the procedural regulations governing the naming of streets and the more he studied the more irate he became. “They have condemned us,” he exclaimed, “to receive mere stocking-fillers from Santa, whereas the folk on Great Lane and Gold Hill will be given box sets, bicycles and banjos.”
Thus it was that, on the evening appointed for the special meeting, the people of Little Content Lane marched en masse to the Town Hall, carrying banners that said: ‘We want box sets!’ ‘We want bicycles!’ ‘We want banjos!’ This caused some perplexity amongst the handful of town councillors who had turned out for the meeting. “What on earth are these idiots on about?” they muttered to one another, raising their eyebrows and rolling their eyeballs.
In order to comprehend the proceedings at any such meeting, Mayor Mare relied heavily on the services of the Town Clerk. Her name was Sandra and she was a horse-whisperer. Heroically multi-tasking, she would not only record the minutes but, in a hoarse whisper, translate them for the benefit of Mayor Mare. As Horace Oats made his presentation, Sandra did her very best to convey its essence to her four legged superior. When he had finished, a series of nuanced snorts provided Sandra with a translatable mayoral statement.
It was clear, she said, that the citizens of Little Content Lane were labouring under a misapprehension. The implication of inferiority that the name bestowed was only to be found if one placed verbal emphasis on the first syllable of the second word (content). Place it on the second syllable of that word (content) and the implication changed considerably. The name was a tribute, she told them, to a people who strived to better themselves and their environment and for whom ‘second best’ simply would not do. And since the name had existed for a considerable length of time already, what proof had they that Santa had ever delivered any fewer box sets, bicycles and banjos than he did to the residents of Gold Hill or Great Lane? Indeed, many of those attending the meeting had arrived on bicycles, were members of the town’s highly accomplished banjo band and had left family members at home watching box sets.
At this Horace Oats was rendered speechless and the protesters deeply abashed. How could they have been so foolish? Leaving their banners behind them they returned to their homes, determined to use the power of their discontent to better serve the town where they dwelt. And that Christmas, when Santa and his elves delivered candlesticks, catamarans and cardigans with absolute equality throughout Shaftesbury, it was clear that their lot was no worse than that of any other part of the town.
Mayor Mare was re-elected for several years running and, though she is largely forgotten now, was considered one of the finest dignitaries ever to have held that title. In one respect, however, her legend lives on. To this very day you have only to walk by a field full of sheep and you will hear her name being repetitively celebrated. “Mehh! Mehh!”