(This is the fifth in a series that begins with A Night in Steerage.)
Saturday, June 11 arrived. This was the day I had planned my entire trip around. The day of the St Leonard’s Church village fete. We’ve all seen fetes on PBS mini-series: the big hats, the tea tent, local musicians, crying children, a murder or two.
Nobody slept well the night before. It was a muggy night and I was tired from the day in Bristol. I went up to the church in the morning to have a look at the set up and to meet Raquel, the fete organizer, who had given me a job selling raffle tickets. She showed me the ticket booth and several people came over to get a look at this specimen of humanity who had enthusiastically volunteered to help.
I went home and fell asleep for two hours, waking to find Sue in her bed with a migraine and three cats. She said she would come up at 3:00 and do her bit at the book stall. I left her in bed and went down the drain to the village fete. (It’s pronounced “fate.” I’ve been pronouncing it as though I was in French class and have been putting the ostentatious circumflex over the first “e” at great expense to my computer skills.)
Raquel suggested I hit up people in the refreshment tent because they were sitting ducks. I sat at table after table chatting with people. Everyone cheerfully bought one, two, ten tickets at a pound each. Everyone asked me what the big attraction the village fete was to me.
“Was this what you expected?”
“Actually it is although I hadn’t expected the rain”
“It wouldn’t be a proper English fete without rain.”
It wouldn’t be a proper English anything without someone making reference to “a proper” something.
Over and over I explained that we do much the same thing in the States but it’s usually just a bake sale or a book sale or a rummage sale. We don’t have “tombola.” I had never heard of a “bottle stall” but I thought it was a brilliant idea: people clean out their cupboards and donate bottles of what they want to get rid of, anything as long as it’s in a bottle: spirits, wine, vinegar, fizzy water. It has to be at least two thirds full.
Then there was the “coconut shy.” There had been a flap on at the shop earlier because the coconuts hadn’t arrived until the last minute.
We don’t have clay pigeon shooting that I know of. And we certainly don’t have tours of the church’s 300 year old bell tower.
I climbed all the way to the top of the tower spurred on by two men who said appreciatively, “Ooh it’s nice to see a woman up here.” They encouraged me to climb right into the bell scaffolding where I took a photo, then promptly dropped my camera. The battery case flew open and one of the batteries dropped through a bell hole onto the level below.
“Why, it’s a battery,” I heard someone say.
“It’s mine,” I cried in my crass American accent. “I’m just coming.” As though I thought someone would pounce on it and not give it back.
I was more or less on the run from my appointed duties because I had muddled the tickets and thought a break was in order. I’d sold all my tickets and was set to go back for more when I realized I had a book of blank stubs that should have had someone’s name and phone number on it. And I had a set of five coupons that someone else should have had on their person.
“They’re going to fire me,” I moaned to the couple I had been sitting with.
“Oh no, let’s just get this sorted,” the woman—Marilyn—said.
We lined up the numbers on the coupons and I scanned the tent for people who looked familiar.
“I guess I’ll have to go around and try to find people,” I said
Marilyn’s husband waved his hand. “Oh don’t bother,” he said philosophically. “They weren’t going to win anyway!”
That made me laugh. When I told Wendy and Sue later, Wendy said that whoever didn’t win would probably want to thank me as the first prize was a chance to go glamping five miles down the road.
So I was up in the bell tower in shameful retreat. When I got my camera sorted, I climbed down and went back to the fete in time to hear the village choir. It could have been The OK Chorale at a farmer’s market except they were all women and they had memorized their music. I enjoyed watching the director. I knew how she was feeling and what she was thinking.
Sue and Wendy were there when I got home. Sue was feeling better and the three of us met Wendy’s sister Joy in Street for a meal at Pizza Express. It wasn’t what I expected. When it comes to pizza I am still back in the 70s when pizzas were three inches of mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and oregano. I got a Caesar salad but when I saw the pizzas, I wish I had gotten one of them instead: thin crust heaped with good looking vegetables.
I have to say something about the food: it’s fabulous. Vegetables and fruits are fresh and taste like what they are. Carrots taste like carrots, not like cardboard with a layer of pesticide the way they often do in the States, even the organic ones. Gluten free is everywhere. And I can’t say enough about the cakes. The British really know how to make a cake. Another thing they know how to do is grow strawberries. I am eating peas from Zimbabwe, tomatoes from Poland and grapes from Egypt. This seems exotic to me. As well they are all tasty. But the strawberries are British and there isn’t a dud among them. Sweet strawberry-tasting strawberries. I could eat them all day.
On our way back to the car park in Street, Sue and I both got cash from the cash machine in the High street. There were a bunch of noisy males in the street when I was typing in my pin. It rattled me because I hadn’t gotten a fix on why they were being noisy.
“It made me nervous to be getting money with hooligans behind me,” I said as we walked to the car.
“We weren’t going to hurt you,” Sue said wickedly.
Sue and I stayed up talking about British and American holidays and food. Tomorrow we were driving to Beaulieu in the New Forest in Hampshire. It’s going to be another big day so get some sleep.