Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

THE GREAT AND the good of Docklow (that's two great and five good - Docklow's not a very big place) gathered in our garden the Saturday before last for the annual church fete. The fete used to take place in the Crowleys' garden a couple of miles down the road, but about 18 months ago I hesitantly offered to hold it here - assuming I'd be laughed at on the grounds that as relative newcomers we were not yet entitled to muscle in on tradition - only for the Crowleys to say a loud "yes" before I had quite finished my sentence. It's rather a responsibility, hosting the fete.

Not, I should add, that we had to do very much other than provide the venue.

The above-mentioned great and good have the organising down to a fine art, although by their lofty standards of efficiency they seemed to leave it rather late this year. By 11am, with the fete due to start at two, only the portable loo was in place, half-way down the drive. Moreover, far from the early erection of the loo constituting one less thing to worry about, it had already been mistaken for the ticket booth by Mrs Clayton from Essex, who was staying in one of our holiday cottages. It is a rather salubrious-looking loo, mock-Tudor in appearance, so I could see what she meant. But would others make the same mistake? I didn't want a line of people building up outside it, only for someone in the queue to give the door a tentative push and be greeted by a faint smell of urine.

Anyway, by about ten to two, as if by magic, a large tea tent had appeared on our sun-baked back lawn and a 25-piece brass band had taken up residence in the (very necessary) shade of the old cedar tree. We pinched the idea of having a band from the Yarpole Village Fete, which is the grand panjandrum of fetes hereabouts.

Unfortunately, our fete and theirs clashed this year, which was a shame because I'd been asked to open theirs. A smidgen of notoriety goes a long way in north Herefordshire, not that anyone asked me to open the Docklow fete, indeed the very suggestion would have caused much merriment in the King's Head, where they know me not as "journalist and author" but as the daft incomer who once hired a hitman to kill a cockerel.

Not going to Yarpole also meant that I couldn't be roped in, all too literally, to their tug-of-war. Last summer our team actually won the thing, although I mustn't pretend that my contribution to the mighty cause amounted to much more than a sudden burst of phut-phut-phutting flatulence with the effort of it all.

We didn't have a tug-of-war at our fete but I must say that it was rather wonderful to have Dvorak's "Hovis" music wafting round the garden, as the Teme Valley Band got into their stride. And in the all-important three hours between 11 and two, it really was as if someone had waved a wand and said "let there be a fete". Suddenly there were trestle tables groaning with home-made cakes, jams and chutneys, enough bric-a-brac to fill Steptoe's yard, a tombola, a skittle alley, a pig roast and a chocolate fountain. Meanwhile, my son Joe did a cracking job of running the penalty shoot-out competition, not in the slightest bit diminished by the fact that he proceeded to win it, although we were ever so slightly embarrassed when our golden retriever, Fergus, then won first prize in the dog show. Joint runners-up were Finlay and Crawford, two little West Highland terriers owned by Mrs Clayton, who'd mistaken the loo for the ticket booth. She said it was the proudest day of her life.

But if that was the highlight of her day, the highlight of mine was seeing Tashi - a trekking guide from Bhutan being sponsored on a trip to Europe by our friends Charlie and Caroline - wandering around the fete in a kind of silk dressing-gown, which is his national costume. "Who's the guy in the kung-fu get-up having a go on the skittles," asked Tim, the dog-show judge. "A Bhutanese trekker," I replied, happy in the knowledge that Yarpole fete won't ever have one of those.

'Tales of the Country', by Brian Viner, is out in paperback (Simon & Schuster, £7.99)

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