“Are you trying to find yourself?” said the Somewhat Distinguished Englishman sipping his pint at the other end of the bar.
I put my empty cider glass down and tap my finger on the piece of paper on the bar mat, directing his gaze towards it.
“No, I am trying to find anything connected to these people.”
The Friendly Barmaid re-joins us, “she is tracing her family tree. Do you know the Bennetts?”
To my surprise Somewhat Distinguished starts to nod slowly… “yeah, horse traders I think”.
The barmaid and I exchange glances, raising our eyebrows. Somewhat Distinguished has just confirmed what was said to me by one of the other village residents mere moments before I went into the pub. There is only 65 residents in this hamlet, and I’m very quickly meeting them.
Wandering down the main street (lane) I had come across a 92 year old man wearing a high vis shirt and stuck in some brambles. I stopped to help him pull the thorny branches off the calf of his trousers, then mentioned my search for the Bennett family. High Vis Mike said that my ancestors from nearly 200 years ago had remained living in this area and were well known horse traders, transporting horses from Wales to this tiny village in Somerset, England – Dinnington. They would break in the horses then sell them for a tidy sum. He pointed to a house ahead of us, saying they had previously lived there, and gossipingly told me the current occupier is a drunk, so “be careful”. I could barely believe it! I had stopped in the village with a few names, dates of birth and a date of marriage. Now I was standing here looking at my ancestors’ family home, every crumbling gorgeous stone of it!
High Vis Mike then complained about the increase in traffic in the village, saying “you used to be able to walk the cows down here no problem” and wished me well, before going back to trawling through the bushes along the side of the country lane. I left him to it and wandered into the pub.
The Friendly Barmaid had listened attentively as I relayed my story of family and meeting High Vis Mike. She tells me that High Vis Mike owns half of the land the town sits on, and probably owns the house he said the Bennetts had lived in. Well, there you go! High Vis Mike kept that quiet.
So, after mentioning that the Bennetts were horse traders, Somewhat Distinguished Englishman pondered some more, adding that recently two men in the pub were talking about the old Bennett family. He then added:
“Yeah, the Bennetts lived in my house apparently, long before I brought it.”
Oh! Somewhat Distinguished is High Vis Mike’s accused drunk neighbour. Of course. The current town gossip starts drawing me in as much as the search for long lost family. I venture on, with:
“Oh, was one of the men talking about the Bennetts named Mike by any chance?”
Somewhat Distinguished remains quiet. Almost as quiet at Introvert Beer Drinker sitting beside him.
“Oh no, Mike doesn’t come in here”, contribution from Friendly Barmaid.
I break the silence by returning the conversation to the Bennetts,”so, wow, you are possibly living in my ancestors house!”
My raised eyebrows and excitement isn’t really mirrored by Somewhat Distinguished. I’d like him to invite me into his house, to sit in the living room and connect with the two hundred year old energy of my kin. I sense that kind of offer won’t be forthcoming. It’s probably for the best, me being a single traveller this weekend and not knowing a thing about Somewhat Distinguished.
Other people trickle into the bar and I return my attention to my surroundings, the Dinnington Docks pub, 350 years old, serving up local and international beers, cider of course, and good pub grub. As Friendly Barmaid had said, my ancestors would have drunk in this pub. I look down at the barstool, knowing it can’t tell me much past twenty years ago. I look up at the wooden beams along the ceiling, wonder about the centuries of secrets they hold in their grain…Bennett secrets? I do like to daydream.
Friendly Barmaid and Introvert Beer Drinker had suggested visiting the local church for family information. A good idea. I’m tempted to stay for more cider and see what further stories unfold. However it feels like we’ve reached the end of the Dinnington Docks chapter for now. I’m sure there is more to know of the local relationships with High Vis Mike, but I head to the church.
The headstones in the church yard are too old to read, mottled stone of wind-worn letters and dates of birth erased. The church doors are locked yet I wander through the grounds. It sparks my romantic side, imagining Edward Bennett and Anna Pitcher being bonded within the strong stone walls, amongst the soft greens of the surrounding hills on 22nd January 1857. Anna had lived in nearby Seavington St Marys, a few miles away. I choose to believe that their romance required long walks along country lanes for late night rendezvous, rather than being a family-land-business-female-ownership transaction. Like I said, I do like to daydream. I even imagined marrying there. It felt like my church somehow, familiar.
The sun was starting to dip behind the hills. Maybe I’ll come back to Dinnington Docks for the Sunday Roast, see if I can “find myself” with a scampi and chips.