All the fun of the fete

'In England, we relax by guessing the weight of a pig, throwing a ring over a jar of chutney, and thinking it's wonderful if it's not raining'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

"I went for a drive in the country the other day," said the man with the dog, as he ordered himself another pint at the bar, "and do you know what I saw?" This is what is known as a conversational gambit. When a man ( it's always a man ) asks such a question, he doesn't want an answer. He just wants you to say, in silent wonder, that you had no idea what he saw, and to ask him to enlighten you as soon as possible.

"I went for a drive in the country the other day," said the man with the dog, as he ordered himself another pint at the bar, "and do you know what I saw?" This is what is known as a conversational gambit. When a man ( it's always a man ) asks such a question, he doesn't want an answer. He just wants you to say, in silent wonder, that you had no idea what he saw, and to ask him to enlighten you as soon as possible.

"What did you see?" said someone, obligingly.

"I saw more than 17 signs for 17 different village fetes," said the man with the dog.

There was a stunned silence.

Was that all it was?

There are always signs for village fetes at this time of year.

What was he on about?

"What I am on about," said the man with the dog," is your total lack of reaction to that. Fetes are something we all take for granted. Every year they come and go. People turn up and guess the weight of the cake, or the number of Smarties in a jar; they try to knock a coconut down or break old crockery; then they go home again, with or without a prize, and say they had a good old time. And we all take it for granted."

There was a silence. We were all obviously meant to feel guilty about something, but what?

"And what do you think we ought to do about it?" said the resident Welshman.

"I think we ought to cherish them," said the man with the dog, and for a moment I thought he was going to cry. "Village fetes are one of the last things left untouched. They are an English tradition that should be part of our heritage."

"English?" said the resident Welshman. "Don't you mean British?"

"No, I don't," said the man. "Fetes are very English. All you have got in Wales are eisteddfodau."

The Welshman was so surprised to hear a halfway accurate Welsh plural that he just gaped.

"And what they have locally in Scotland is Highland games. Typical, really. In Scotland, they have fun by throwing things around. In Wales, they relax by talking and declaiming. Which is exactly what they do when they're not relaxing. But in England, we relax by guessing the weight of a pig, throwing a ring over a jar of chutney, and thinking it's wonderful if it's not raining.

"English fetes are great. The National Trust should make sure they never die out."

"If you want something preserved, don't call for the National Trust," said the lady with the orange hair. "Fossilised, yes. Preserved, no."

"I think she's right," said the vicar, who had dropped in to the pub on one of his rare visits. "Things like fetes should just be left to evolve naturally. Not that things ever change very much. Even now, almost everything you'll see at a real fete is pre-machine age. The tombola, the bran tub, the coconut shy..."

"There's always the bouncy castle," said someone. "That's new. Ten years ago, you didn't see them. Now, a fete without a bouncy castle is no fete at all. Ah, it's all so English – the roar of the generator, and the whiff of the diesel, and the cries of the little children as the big children fall on top of them and break their ankles!"

"Rubbish," said the man with the dog. "There's no malice in an English fete. It's the last refuge of decency."

"You wouldn't say that if you had stuck your face through a hole in a board and seen people throwing wet sponges at you, at 50p for three," said the vicar, ruefully. "Thank God people are such rotten shots."

"As a matter of interest, vicar," I said, "do you actually pray to God that people will miss you?"

"I pray that certain people will miss me," said the vicar. "There are certain people in whose eyes I would hate to see vindictive pleasure. God, on the whole, protects me from them fairly efficiently."

"Do you think that your experience at English fetes proves the existence of God, then?" I said.

There was a loud cough as the landlord struck the charity bottle on the bar. This is the pub's equivalent of the swear box. If anyone refers to certain forbidden topics before 10pm, he or she is fined. They include politics, God, Jeffrey Archer and Anne Robinson.

"A pound, please," he said.

"Have a heart," I said. "At least I kept the conversation off the World Cup."

He hesitated.

"OK, just this once," he said, after which the conversation went on to the best way to overtake a tractor.

Comments