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Chris van Schaick: Village fetes

PUBLISHED: 10:49 02 June 2016 | UPDATED: 10:49 02 June 2016

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

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This month, Chris is spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing which local garden party he should attend

Is there any more potent symbol of English village life than the church fete? Or is there any phrase which evokes the spirit of the shires better than: “If wet, in village hall.”?

I’ve lived in the Meon Valley for more than 20 years. That time has included many summer afternoons being cheerfully parted from my small change on a well-cut lawn. But I’ve never been rained on or needed to admire the bunting from indoors.

Perhaps it’s because I am promiscuous when it comes to my choice of garden party. I live in the parish of Soberton yet I can see Droxford Church from where I live. Going the other way, Newton is as inseparable from Soberton as Minneapolis is from St Paul. So each summer I tend to pick and choose which fete tickles my fancy.

My only regret about all those times I’ve hoisted a small child into the fire engine at a village fete is that I never climbed up there myself. Dads like the shiny machines too, you know. But as time marches on, the youngsters start to be in charge of their own 50 pence coins. Then a new danger rears its head: clutter. Those bric-a-brac stalls are very well for clearing out your shed. But the stuff ends up in mine. My daughter was tremendously pleased one year for buying a portable manual typewriter from about 1970 at Soberton fete. It was just right for the creative self-image of her 16-year-old self. Needless to say, not a key on that typewriter has been struck in anger since. Daughter has now moved out. But the typewriter hasn’t.

Pets play a key part of course. At Droxford the other year, there was a prize for the dog most like its owner. Mrs. v. S. entered in a team with our cocker spaniel Scrumpy and even put her hair in bunches to mimic the dog’s ears. A stern faced judge clearly took the view that this was akin to doping in sport and marked Team van Schaick down to second place. It’s a slight from which Mrs v.S. has never really recovered.

Of course village fetes offer a marvellous, guilt-free occasion to enjoy refined sugar in all its forms. Moreover, I don’t think there’s any cup of tea that tastes as good as the one served in the typical village hall cup and saucer of baby blue. But a key ingredient of the fete is the ‘Well Known Person To Open It’. Years ago I was a middle ranking functionary in the BBC and I was asked to find somebody to open. None of the personalities over whom I then held sway were available. So I ended up opening the fete myself. Afterwards, the organiser’s feedback was a masterpiece of courteous brutality: “Thank you very much, Chris. We’re most grateful. (Pause). Would it be possible to have someone famous next year?” 


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