First of all, apologies to those of my dear loyal readers puzzled to see yet another post not about Seville – a perfectly reasonable expectation. The next one will return to business as usual, I assure you. The reason is we’ve only just returned from our summer sojourn in the home country – England – visiting family and friends (aging parents, high-achieving teenage nephews, county-cricket-playing godson, successful friends with good, well-paid jobs *tries not to gnash teeth*).
I love to take my Anglo-Spanish children to quintessentially English places, to do quintessentially English things – the pub, local draft bitter (OK, not quite yet). And what could be more typical of that fair isle than a summer village fête?
At the Bank Holiday – in the UK there’s a puente, a bank holiday, on the last Monday of August – there are many outdoors events held around the country, in gardens and parks and other green spaces. We went to the fête in a village near where my parents live, and where I grew up. A fête could be said to English version of a Spanish fiesta (fête is from the French, with the ^ indicating a lost s; I’m a sucker for etymology), but they have little in common; no dancing, no loud music, no fairground rides.
English fairs are a much more low-key and gentle experience. Before going to a Spanish fiesta, or feria (local party; each town throws their own), I brace myself for an afternoon or evening’s serious drinking and socialising: pushing though crowds to get to the dance floor, or bar, or loo; shouting over the noise; and getting used to the charged thrum of a hot, half-cut, up-for-it crowd. There’s always a bar at a fête, but the vibe is totally different.
This was an afternoon of old-fashioned, traditional fun, with hands-on activities, held on the village’s cricket pitch, where an assortment of stalls, tents and other attractions were arranged around a central sporting arena, which was marked out with a border of jolly, festive bunting and surrounded by straw bales for spectators to sit on. The general air of summer enjoyment was helped along by blue skies with fluffy clouds, providing the ideal temperature – warm (ice-cream weather, definitely), but not too hot.
My children joined in with gusto, my son winning his spacehopper race (modern version of the sack, perhaps?) by a respectable margin, and his tug-of-war too. This particular event reminded me of the Jubilee party we went to last year, where he also participated enthusiastically, narrowly avoiding being trampled by his uncle’s team mates.
We missed “Guess the weight of the cake”, and “Guess how many sweets are in the jar” (saving my daughter’s teeth from a sugar-battering), and never made it to Splat the Rat (a firm favourite) or the coconut shy. But they were both quite taken with the Bushcraft stall – an area of shady ground under an ancient tree, where a charming man, Terry from Essex County Council’s Outdoors department, showed them how to make a kazoo - a small instrument you blow to make a buzzing sound. Peel a stick of willow using a knife (don’t panic, I told myself, he’s a professional), then cut it in half (ditto), scoop out a hollow, insert a strip of paper and tie it back together with elastic bands. Decorate to taste.
Terry goes around Essex schools teaching that, and other outdoorsy, Survivor-ish activities such as “fire lighting, shelter building and camp craft”, for a living. Sod ballet and football, violin and yoga – basic survival skills are where it’s at for today’s over-cosseted, screen-addicted kids.
They also got to make (or should that be throw?) a pot using local clay. The village’s history group has built a kiln to fire bricks, a traditional industry in Essex dating back to Roman times. I couldn’t help noticing the parallel with clay from Triana here in Seville.
Also, I loved pottery at school. I was useless at art, but pottery was fun and it didn’t matter if you were mediocre – your work was eccentric, or had character, rather than being crap (at least, that’s what my ever-diplomatic parents told me). My children’s pots will be fired in a couple of months, and displayed in the village pub; my Mum has been charged with collecting them.
Other random attractions – one of the best features of fêtes, for me, is their eclecticism – were a glider from the local club: sitting in the pilot’s seat and moving the various levers was predictably popular; some three-wheeler Morgans and veteran tanks; and the home-made jam stall. What’s unusual about that? I hear you ask – these people run to exotic combinations such as beetroot and horseradish and, for Christmas (one present done already!) spiced plum and port.
The second-hand book stall provided some contemporary fiction and a Horrid Henry book, so we felt like winners, despite losing the raffle (first prize: glider flight), name the teddy, and win a ridiculously large cuddly toy if you draw an odd-numbered ticket. We tried NINE TIMES – all evens. What are the odds of that happening? One in four-and-a-half, right? And it wasn’t even for charity. Still, if that was the only low point, the afternoon was a roaring success by my standards.