• The Church Fete

    Now--about the Church Fete. I shall record the details here as they were fun and plentiful! I arrived in the vicarage garden at the early hour of 8.30 a.m, as suggested, only to be met by Vicar Julian himself, walking his dog across the playing field alongside. He told me I was rather early and wouldn’t be needed until much later. The Vicarage is a fine old house; somewhat run-down inside as are most in-use vicarages, but simply lovely with a rambling garden opening onto the golf course that makes up a fair amount of the large village. The stone house, Georgian in style but probably older, is protected by a high, buttressed wall on the road side; the only remaining evidence that a grander church building once stood there.

    The sun was pounding down, even at breakfast time. It was very hot walking back home in the morning sun--and then re-appearing as instructed at 11 a.m. after another scorching walk. Jess, who was helping to run the show, was annoyed with Julian and his wife Charlotte for turning me away earlier; “we could have done with her here all day!!” I was quietly relieved that I hadn’t stayed earlier. It was a tiring enough afternoon in the big heat. Jess tends to bluster about, muttering under her breath about everything; she makes me smile, another amusing choir member who rides about town on her old-fashioned bike with a basket on the front. Most of the choir members are over sixty.

    My goodness--the bric-a-brac stall took up most of the garden length--clothes, toys, small pieces of furniture and every kind of trinket, kitchen utensil and ornament! I set about trying to gain some sort of order; an almost impossible task; grateful that the midday sun eventually gave way to the shade of the leafy trees. I put aside a few items for The Playgroup--namely small trinkets suitable for children’s birthday gifts--and then I attempted to sort through the big heap of clothes. A large amount had come from the Vicar’s wife. Charlotte tends to buy cheaply and re-sell on-line, so there were one or two special things amongst the jumble. The most eye-catching item was a pair of saucy, high-heeled red shoes with lattice tops and silver stud-work. “Goodness--these are brand new!” I exclaimed. “I never wore them,” 'Charlie', admitted, surprising me. The Vicar’s wife prefers the abreviated version of her name. Charlie is a painter--specializing in church redecoration. “I trained in London,” she told me. “Is that how you met Julian?” I asked, genuinely interested. A small woman with a twinkle in her eye, Charlie’s long, dark hair that she wears with a fringe reminds me of a cheeky Shetland pony. She speaks with a Scottich accent. “Oh no--we met on-line,” she smiled coyly. “Internet dating; it really does work! We were married 5 years ago. I’ll go and fetch more hangers for the rail.”

    I enjoyed working with Charlie. She spent some time with me on the bric-a-brac stall under the gently-moving trees that thankfully protected us from the heat, although she was busy doing many other things too; taking photographs and providing anyone who asked for anything with cold water to extra carrier bags. I saw virtually all my friends from the village. Neil the retired Bishop was the first to appear, quickly offering to buy me a cup of tea. “Here’s a piece of cake for you too--keep you going. You’ll still be singing with the choir in September?” I like Neil; he always stands when he sings, even when the other tenors are sitting down. Bonnie the choir mistress arrived a few minutes later, fingering the clothes rail with her coy smile, asking how I was doing and telling me that the recording of the choral piece especially written for us hadn’t come out well enough to distribute. “It wasn’t done properly,” she admitted; “too rushed. It’s better in the memory, I can assure you!”

    Bonnie is a small woman in her late fifties. She speaks with a slight foreign inflection. I was surprised when someone told me recently that she is English. Bonnie was awarded the great honour of spending a year under the tutelage of a renowned Polish musician ten years ago. “She was only away for a year,” my informant continued; “but she returned with a Polish accent she has never dropped!”

    A large marquee in front of the vicarage provided tea while another large tent on the golf course was selling alcohol as well as books; an interesting combination. Loud music interspersed with Primary School country dancing ensued while directly across the lawn from my stall was ‘Madame Zita’ sitting inside her Fortune Telling tent. “She looks the part, don’t you think?” Mallory Hern was the next to appear. I first met Mallory when we arrived in the town two years ago and took The Pipkin to the Pet service in the church. Mallory is a regular church goer; always dressed to perfection with polished shoes and suits from Jermyn Street; the epitome of an English gent. A small man with a clipped speaking voice and beautifully presented ‘everything’ he is very dapper! “You remember my friend, Jeremiah Barnsley?” Mallory introduced me to his chum and we shook hands formally. Both men are fine art historians, retired but still involved with university lecturing. I have met Jeremiah before; he lives in London and often spends the weekend here. Both men were beautifully tuned out, wearing open-necked, pressed shirts and chino trousers--and panama hats of course! If the village had a mayor, Mallory would be it. He heads up the local council and various other important ‘bodies’--including the horticultural society. He has a fine garden, including a spectacular rose walk.

    “Your turn to visit Madame Zita,” Mallory teased his friend. “She’s very good--spot on; apparently I grow roses! Here’s a lolly for you,” Mallory turned to me, producing the fruity treat with a flourish, explaining that a small boy had given it to him earlier. “I was judging one of the competitions in the big tent. One of the children was so pleased he’d won he came up to me afterwards and gave it to me as a thank you!” Mallory has invited me to visit his fine house and see his gardens. “I didn’t know you were an Interior Decorator,” he said. “You’ll enjoy seeing inside my house too.” He is off on his travels again soon. I told him I was a writer--Mallory likes to paint, so that was a happy artist’s meeting. The next friend to arrive at my stall was Retired Vicar Derry and his theatrical wife, Ellen. They appeared halfway through the afternoon; both wearing sunhats. They also sing with me in the choir. Derry keeps the website up to scratch and acts as choir secretary. “Good grief--I think I should buy that dreadful picture just to take it out of circulation; like I do with porn!” Derry picked up a rather drear piece of Victorian art in a dark frame--a sepia toned picture of Christ kneeling in a pool of light. “It is rather oppressive,” I commented, adding that it was bound to be in fashion somewhere!

    “Here are some cabbage plants--can you sell them on your stand?” “I’ll take them up to the produce stall; they’ll do better there,” Charlie smiled at the elderly gent in his high-waisted trousers and floppy hat who was keen to contribute. There is something endearing about older gents who find it tricky keeping their trousers up! Did he have egg down his shirt? Possibly. And so the afternoon continued under the shady trees of this delightful, historic place; never a dull moment and so wonderfully diverse that I had to find a camera to remind me of the moments. I love to record the amusing and unexpected detail that make up our funny old lives!

    Now--who appeared next? Ah--the rough diamond fellow with two dogs in tow; a man with bashed in hat and dark T-shirt. He was bronzed like his HUGE Rottweiler/Mastiff that he had on a big chain while clutching a gangly puppy in his arms. Both dogs were causing quite a stir! He wanted to chat. “His brother dropped dead at three years old---not fit enough, I reckon,” he mumbled through uneven teeth, indicating the larger pooch. “My dogs run up my long drive every day--keeps ‘em healthy. This one’s a Jack-Russell. Yeh--I know his legs are rather long for a terrier, so perhaps he’ll be bigger. I don’t mind big dogs!!” And then dear Daniel walked past; the very shy and oh, so sweet church organist who often plays for the choir. He always seems so surprised that I acknowledge him. I gave him a big welcome and he grinned sheepishly. His patterned, summer shirt was rather out of keeping. He is usually buttoned up to the chin and very proper. The tropical number was flapping in the wind and I could see his tummy. He is another older man in his seventies I would say. I like him.

    A woman and her foreign friend in their mid-thirties were the next to approach the stall. They fingered the clothes on the rail and then spied THE RED SHOES! Well--they fell on them with great glee, the foreign lady with very short hair discovering they fitted like a glove. “How much are they?” She asked, turning them over in her artistic hands. “Two pounds? Oh no--that’s far too cheap. I’ll give you a tenner for them. I’m always being told I look masculine. These will change all that!” The shoe party continued apace with others watching from the next door jewelry stall while one small child accompanying the purchasers just had to try on the shoes in question. The transaction completed, I decided this was just the right moment to whisper quietly; “by the way--they were the vicar’s wife’s shoes!” Gales of laughter erupted, just as the vicar himself appeared in his Fete outfit--dressed up in Moorish Arab garb---a white robe and little cap, ringing a hand-bell to summon the second round of country dancers. The next time I spied him he had changed back into his clerical black, sporting shorts instead of trousers and one of those old-fashioned, pastors’ black hats; you know the kind I mean—flattish with a single black tassel dangling over the side. The vicar is a funny fellow; a natural comedian with an unusual manner ---jucular and friendly. He was swigging back the cider and getting more sun-scorched by the hour!

    “Can we hide the water balloons here, behind your table?” Flo and Mel---parents from the Playgroup I run in the village, dragged a large bucket behind the clothes rail. “Shh---don’t let anyone know they’re here,” they told me. “We need the balloons for the children’s games. Oh—can I try on that pretty blue cardigan? It’s perfect!” Flo looked lovely in the crocheted top which she decided to keep on as it matched her dress perfectly. My friend Mary from the choir was running the jewelry stall next to me. Her arrangements were orderly and refined---unlike my chaotic jumble. She had a shady gazebo keeping off the worst of the heat. “We could be in the South of France!” She exclaimed, fanning herself down. Mary is always very well dressed. She runs the choir’s sociable events. “Look at these earrings—have you ever seen anything so strange?” I leaned into the gazebo finding the MOST EXTRAORDINARY pieces ever! They were so odd I had to take a picture of them. Had someone’s dog digested a few electrical components and a dollop of play-dough only to regurgitate the lot? “Oh look--you’d better go,” Mary shook me from my intrigued reverie. “Someone’s waiting for you at your table.”

    A woman I have seen before was holding out a Chinese patterned box, asking about the price. She turned to her Down-Syndrome son standing beside her. “Are you sure you want this? Have you spent all your money?” The young man with downy moustache and beard rummaged in his purse, producing the two pounds required. He gave me a big smile and opened the box which was full of odds and ends. He was rather chuffed with the white, rubber mouse lying amongst the paper clips and marbles. Its tail was missing, but the new owner didn’t seem to mind. Straightening his denim hat and taking his hand, his caring mother led him away into the tea tent. A moment of quiet saw the kind lady from the vicarage kitchen delivering iced water, making sure the stallholders were properly hydrated, so I sat down for a minute or two, enjoying the fun spectacle and continuing to wave to familiar folk.

    And then I met Rrami--a leggy, sun-bronzed fellow with a skinny frame, stubbly face and twinkly eyes. He was interested in several objects on the stall; fingering the items carefully with slow, considered banter as he debated their worth. We chatted as he browsed. “I’m a musician--and a poet,” he shyly informed me. “But I had a rough childhood and my confidence is low. I did dare to play my recorder in the church recently though--when nobody was about! Yes--I have my music on Sound Cloud---do you know about that? You are a writer?? Oh, give me your details. Perhaps I should try twitter. I’m low on confidence, you know. Should I buy this slide viewfinder? How much is it?” What a poppet! I waved Rami goodbye and pocketed his Sound Cloud details.

    “Why do we have to listen to Julian’s 1970’s noise?” Mary was tut-tutting about the dubious music that was obliterating the sound of the pretty hand-bell instruction taking palce beside the tombola stall. “I’d rather listen to the bells, wouldn’t you?” I had to agree as another round of ‘I’ve Got a Brand New Combine Harvester’ drowned out the far prettier melodies.

    And so the afternoon continued. My neighbour with the disabled husband was running the tea tent and another neighbour was organizing the raffle; the denture repair man whose property is as neat as a row of polished teeth. I could go on, but I think that’s enough for one day. I helped clear away and eventually strolled home in the early evening cool, deciding that Mallory’s lolly might be good company. I never usually eat sweets but today was special. Un-wrapping the treat and allowing the juicy flavours to fill my mouth I smiled contentedly. Leaving our New Zealand home has been a big deal, but after two years I can honestly say that I feel I belong in this splendid and quirky corner of England.

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