Every village has its fete. In my book, ‘The Village’, the story for July is entitled ‘The Summer Fete’ and my fictional version, while perhaps more steeped in dastardly doings than most, is also in many ways typical. For tradition demands that village fetes follow certain lines and, increasingly, urban villages have their equivalents, which don’t vary hugely from those of their country cousins. This Saturday it was the day of the Abbeville Fete in Clapham, South London, where I now live.
The roads were closed from early in the morning and stalls and activities set up. Local public services took part ( in my, more rural, childhood, every year saw a display from the local Police Dog-Handling Team ). At this Saturday’s fete a fire engine from Clapham Fire Station was popular with children, especially since they got to ring the fire engine’s bell for a few seconds. As the campaign to retain Clapham Fire Station (as opposed to allowing its conversion into yet another block of over-priced, buy-to-let apartments ) is still ongoing, it is to be hoped that they get the chance again next year. The socio-economic pressures are different from those of the countryside, but they’re still there. Not quite so popular, but still attracting lots of interest, was an old, powder blue Police Squad car, not Z-Cars vintage ( a TV show of the 1960s and 70s, for those who are not of a certain age ) but certainly not an up-to-date model. You can tell that Clapham is now respectable.
There was tombola, go-kart riding and sheep shearing ( see right ), face painting and tart baking ( see left ). The Children’s Fancy Dress competitors paraded at one o’clock and the Dog Show began in a side road at midday. There was a dance workshop and Zumba, a Ukelele Society and the South London Choir, fusion, jazz, a tango demonstration and ‘crowd tango lesson’, as well as stilt walking, drumming, fire eaters and communal pop. In short, there were most things which a traditional village would have at its village fete, though the only ‘race’ was the Waiters & Shopkeepers Race ( now quite famous locally and closely fought, the trophy jealously guarded and displayed in a place of honour until next year ). Admittedly, the tug of war was missing, but so were the drunken ‘young farmers’. A good time was, no doubt, had by all.
And, elsewhere in London, I suspect similar events will be taking place across the Summer. Certainly in those communities which revel in the name of ‘village’ like the genteel ‘Dulwich village’ with its wide grass verges and white painted fences and ‘Wimbledon village’. Both of these were originally villages, as was Clapham. ‘Abbeville village’ is a more recent construct, the modern version of which was brought into being by estate agents trying to sell property in the years when Clapham was still authentically ‘sarf’ London. These days it’s inhabited by bankers or folk ( like me ) who have lived here for decades.
Indeed, on some weekends it is difficult to move around London without tripping over some local ‘village’ event, from Greenwich to Waterloo to Bermondsey, culminating in the Notting Hill Carnival over August Bank Holiday. The English and the denizens of London ( of whatever nationality ) seem to want to recreate something like the rural village fete. This doesn’t just apply in the UK. I recall a week in the south of France when we progressed from village to village, each day taking in another Fete. These towns and villages were rural, or semi-rural, but the fetes were definitely designed with holiday makers in mind. But, aside from particularities applying to each village, what did we find? Tombola, face painting, stilt walking, fire eating, dancing ( of various types ) and the involvement of police/fire service/the Cat Protection League. So perhaps it’s as simple as that, we all want a fun day out in Summer and this is our template. Are folk doing the same in Australia? Does New York have similar? I’m willing to bet they do.
If you happen across this web post, perhaps searching for something else, or if you regularly log on and visit The Story Bazaar, let us know about your ‘village fetes’ or the ‘village fetes’, especially the more unusual, which you have experienced. Please use the comments box below.