NO-HEADLINE

Rain may have wrecked the Test match, but it was powerless to stop play in our village fete. The worst that last weekend's foul weather could do was to drive the event indoors: wild showers forced the Rector to abandon the traditional site - his own spacious lawns - and hold the festivities in the village hall.

This naturally put a damper - or maybe one should say a cramper? - on proceedings, for the hall cannot accommodate side-shows that need a lot of room. Nevertheless, the afternoon was a roaring success.

Arriving a few minutes after kick-off, we found the hall seething. The cake stall - that most reliable raker-in of shekels - had already been swept almost clean; but my wife had brought with her nine loaves of freshly- home-baked wholemeal bread, and this injected a new frenzy into the throng. Maybe people smelt the bread coming as she carried it through the crowd: at any rate, the loaves literally did not touch the table, being snapped up on their way out of the basket.

Such was the hubbub that it was difficult to secure silence for the choir from the primary school, who gave spirited renderings from Michael Hurd's "Swinging Sampson". The children's fancy dress parade also took place on-stage, and commanded less attention than it would have in the open. Nevertheless, both events had the required effect of bringing in parents who might otherwise not have bothered to come.

As for the side-shows, I could not help hankering after old-fashioned rustic pastimes such as shying at coconuts and competitive tossing of the sheaf. But I realised that, with space at a premium, small was beautiful - and, of course, there was room for that perennial favourite, the wheel of fortune, on which a pointer spins against a vertical disc marked out in different-coloured segments. Pieces of board painted the same shades are sold at 20p each; the pointer, having spun, comes to rest on one colour, and somebody wins a bottle of perry every time.

Rolling 2p bits down chutes on to a board marked out in numbered squares also demands little space, as does hunting the lady (the queen) in face- down playing cards. Yet the neatest teaser of the day consisted merely of an upturned flower-pot standing in a tray of marbles. Players were required to scoop up marbles with a shallow wooden spoon and load them down the hole in the base of the flower-pot. Since the game was being run on a tiny table by a diminutive (but very competent) Girl Guide, it took up practically no floor-area at all.

Having grown crafty in such matters, I watched other competitors before committing myself, and saw that haste was most people's downfall. Quick jabs with the spoon merely scattered the marbles: slow, careful scooping was what paid off. I soon set a record with 45 marbles holed in a minute - but alas, I was quickly overtaken.

And how much money do you suppose this modest show raised for the church? Everyone knew that the total would be down on last year's record of pounds 1,400, but nobody thought that it would reach pounds 1,200 - an amazing figure in the circumstances.

A substantial chunk of it derived from the raffle, which offered a splendid first prize of a week in a holiday cottage in Cornwall; the rest was the product of multiple small-scale efforts, not least that of the man on the wheel of fortune, who turned in pounds 58. Like the Lottery on an infinitely larger scale, the afternoon proved that people are happy to shell out money if you give them something to spend it on.

Part of the point of the fete is that it brings the village out and gets people together. Yet its primary object is fundraising, and next morning in the pulpit the Rector congratulated all ranks on their achievement.

He also launched a blistering attack on over-manning in our local church headquarters, where more than 30 officials hold administrative posts. As he said, it is galling to think that so many of our 2p and 10p pieces will go to pay the salaries of bureaucrats who have little or no discernible function, and no contact with the parishes of the diocese.

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