Monday, 11 July 2011

The Big One!

Village life is punctuated by various annual events but the Big One is undoubtedly Feast weekend. This annual celebration has just come and gone, and the curious mix of the traditional and the modern brings out the best - and most quirky - elements of village life. Regardless of the age of your children, they seem to start looking forward and planning it as soon as the last one is over!

The first signs are the arrival of one of two trailers for the fair on the village green and the strategic hanging of the bunting up and down the village which stays there until after the Fun Run later in the summer - and this usually happens on the Monday or Tuesday before the big weekend. Children coming out of the village school or getting off the school buses outside the shop remark on what fair rides might be coming. Will there be dodgems  - or The Edge - so terrifying and brutal that I am obviously never going on it. In fact, my favourite ride hasn't made an appearance since a few years ago when I spent half the afternoon sliding gleefully down the helter-skelter!

My children make a point of returning to the village for Feast weekend - that is daughters 1 and 2 who don't live here all the time. They all bring friends so that usually makes the total number staying to well over 10 on the Saturday night. The older ones love to regale their friends with stories of previous feasts. This, I have noticed, usually takes the form of what embarrassing costume I made for them to wear in the fancy dress competition which is one of the main features of Saturday afternoon.

The event kicks off with a parade down the hill accompanied by a brass band - this year, excitement abounded with men in kilts! There are few things which can buck a girl up like a man in a kilt - and there were several to choose from! All the children parade from the village hall down to the bottom green and then into the show ring. Then they are herded out and divided into age groups, boys and girls, for the judging.

Judging is a serious thing. The first Feast after we moved to the village, we were invited to judge. Not realising the serious nature of the task, we turned up slightly late and slightly tipsy. We sat ceremonially in a row next to a senior lady of the village (sadly no longer with us). As we chose winners from each group, we were politely corrected, as, in those days at least, who won what was a matter of politics as well as standard of dress.

For years after our not-very-spectacular judging of the event, I dressed my own children in various costumes - unicorns, pied piper of Hamlyn (complete with recorder and rats), bats - with the excellent and very successful recycling of umbrellas from the charity shop - jellyfish, sheep and Bam Bam and Pebbles! One year, when the twins were small I customised the enormous family Silver Cross pram as the night sky complete with solar system and pushed it - because it was so huge there was no other way to transport it - the mile into the village only to be beaten by the local architect who had obviously spent the entire winter turning his son's pushchair into Bob the Builder's digger.

After the judging of the fancy dress, the band plays and everyone makes their way back up the hill for village tea. Village tea is a serious tradition. A committee of senior ladies of the village meet before the event and discuss sandwich fillings and numbers of cakes and where the top table (for the aforementioned judges) and the band should sit. Rather a lot of years ago, when my children had told me firmly that they were too cool to dress up, I offered my services as a washer-upper (not on the committee of course - I know my place!) and so I now spend a couple of hours each Feast day in the smallest sub-kitchen ever devised washing up the same cups, saucers and plates over and over again. I have long ago established myself as the lowest form of human life in this once-a-year food chain and I seldom leave the sink except to scuttle back and forth filling giant tea pots and milk jugs. But I never cease to marvel at the  diverse methods each of these ladies employs to seat, serve and clear the hungry, thirsty, rather harassed (parents) and rather scruffy (fancy dress abandoned but face paint still in evidence) children of the village.

Once tea is over, the children find their way across to the school field where the races take place. This year I failed to make an appearance at this event but I still think that my annual cameo in the three legged race may live on in the memory from previous years. I have definitely been more successful in this race (with either a daughter or the Barnsley lodger) than in the obstacle race when year on year I managed to get tangled up in someone's strawberry netting only to emerge much later than the rest of the competitors with rather challenging hair.

The main event for the teenagers is, of course, the raggle taggle fair which lands on the village green with a selection of rides for small children and something dangerous for the big ones plus the dodgems for everyone which becomes significantly more daring as evening turns to night and the alcohol kicks in. Whether the fair work out their charges based on how well-to-do the village remains a mystery, I only know that large amounts of cash disappear and if we are on hand in the village, children return again and again to have more money handed over. One year, in fact the first year we let the twins loose on their own, we went to the pub for supper with several like-minded parents with similar aged children. During the evening, each of the little treasures trouped in for extra pocket money until finally ours delivered a goldfish which spent the rest of the evening in the wine cooler on the table before having a long and happy life at home.

Feast is a rite of passage for teenagers in our village with early experiences of alcohol and probably other things as well. It is, perhaps, one of the safest places to experiment in the way that teenagers must. What is so special is that even when they grow up and go to clubs, bars and restaurants all over the world, they find their way home for Feast. And long may they do so...

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