Hippo, a bald-shaven bulldog, was towing along two ten-year old Barbie lookalikes, their hair dyed (temporarily) pink. They were holding Hippo’s string in one hand and a collecting tin for the Cheshire Homes in the other. Everywhere you go in England somebody is trying to give you something you don’t want (a free newspaper, a copy of Time Out or a taste of their new apricot and banana frappe) or ask you something you don’t want to tell them (what you think of the range of retail outlets in Terminal Three or why you are not a member of Amnesty International or Greenpeace) or extract from you something you do want (almost always your money, but occasionally your hubcaps).
This was The Buzz, the Busbridge Village Fete, one of hundreds of events of its kind going on all over Britain, and there we were ‘down the rec’, a large swathe of green on the edge of the village, surrounded on all sides by faded red-brick Victoriana, each with a monster gas-guzzling 4×4, or maybe two, parked in the driveway. Why do the English all have such expensive cars and such awful little houses, I wonder?
THE BUZZ, BEE THERE 2PM SATURDAY said the signs and we were there, fervently hoping that BEE was an apian pun, not another lecture in political correctitude. As if to reinforce the purpose of such events, Abba’s Money Money Money was blasting across the cricket-strewn sward and swirling around the gazebos where stallholders tried to shed their load of pot-plants and painted doilies onto a reluctant and somewhat subdued public.
It was an essentially low-key event, with the exception of the two overcrowded Harry Potter Jumping Castles and a brilliant horizontal bungee which had the yoof sliding at high-speed on a long elastic across a sunlight-lubricated plastic mat. A miniscule cycle go-kart circuit offered budding Hamiltons a chance to break a track record and apparently there were donkeys (for the riding of) lurking behind the bowling club. We never saw them. Health and Safety has put paid to jousting, I suppose, but there wasn’t even a morris dancer or a maypole in sight. At least the sun was shining and Loseley were selling their world-class strawberries and cream flavoured full fat high-cholesterol ice cream so we wouldn’t need to have our faces painted as pandas. We could smother ourselves in ice cream instead. I’ve never understood face-painting.
A Bob Hoskins soundalike did his best to give the atmosphere a donkey-free kick-start by bellowing the words “Fun, fun, fun” over the PA but the go-carts couldn’t match the Beach Boys’ T-bird as a source thereof and when the clock on the Pavillion struck four, with Busbridge on a respectable 257-3, we slunk off.
A week later we missed the Bix Bottom Village Fete, which was a shame because they promised a Lucky Dip and a Tombola. We were, instead, saving ourselves up for the Russells Water Village Green Party, this time not an earth-saving political movement with collecting tins, but an opskop which promisingly boasted no pushchairs and only got going at 6.30pm. The Oxford Flint (a surprising and superb English dry white wine from the Brightwell Estate) and tins of Boddingtons (well past their sell-by date) were flowing marvellously as the four brilliant old buffers that make up The Gangbusters struck up one or two Beach Boys numbers of their own, spared us the Abba and then gave a respectable prediction of Elvis doing Hound Dog at 70 after many more peanut butter sandwiches. Hippo would have been impressed.
There were no stalls but the braai was excellent and the good folk of Russells Water let rip until midnight, when the drizzle started and we all retired to tackle someone’s private booze supplies instead. The surprise attendee was a delightful Herero from Grootfontein, called Jurgens, who added a good dash of colour to an otherwise lily-white event. Much to the amazement of the burghers he is going out with their doctor’s daughter.
In fine drizzle and atop a chalky Chiltern, it is hard to imagine that across the land the people of otherwise unremarkable places like Hull and Tewkesbury are crying out for gondolas as their towns become more and more Venetian in character, but the fairs, fetes and festivals carry on regardless on every village green and playing field. Maybe Hippo would have been more comfortable shaking off his Barbies and wallowing in the floodwaters of Hull. Everyone else, though, was putting a brave face in it. But what would you expect of a country where they are sensible enough to sell Nurofen headache tablets from the same machines that sell condoms? Nothing fazes the English.
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