We (The Husband and I) were doing a VenerableBead jewellery stall at Churt Village Fair on Saturday 13 June and then again at Chiddingfold Festival today.
Me behind the stall at Churt Village Fête
The stall at Chiddingfold Festival (sorry it's a bit dark)
English village fêtes are timeless events that have not changed in centuries. They are invariably designed to raise funds for a ‘good cause’, which is nearly always the village, the church restoration fund (English village churches are always at least 600 years old, leak and are falling apart at the seams) the boy scouts or the village hall fund. They vary slightly from village to village and year to year and area to area, but there are some things which are essential to all good fêtes. They are invariably opened by a local Z-list celebrity if they can find one (and considering how many celebs live in our part of leafy Surrey, I'm surprised they're not queuing up for a go on the tannoy).
If you can't find a handy celeb willing to be either fawned over or (more likely) ignored by the local populace, then a worthy dignatory will have to suffice. A local councillor in the case of Churt and, for Chiddingfold, a Royal Navy Captain of a ship which is "very much like" HMS Chiddingfold, but not actually HMS Chiddingfold because that one's currently saving democracy in Iraq, although the one this chap is Captain of is the same size and shape, so that's okay then.
Anyone who thinks the English are just a bunch of alcoholics would be fully justified in their opinion if all they had to go on were the kinds of stalls available at your average village fête. At each one we attended this weekend there were several tombola and raffle stalls where the tables were groaning with bottles of all shapes and sizes (mostly alcoholic but with the occasional 'joke' bubble bath or vinegar thrown in), each with a cloakroom ticket stuck to it. Each ticket you buy for a £1 wins a bottle, so it's down to luck whether you get champagne or salad dressing.
The back of one of the raffle stalls at Churt - note the many, many bottles! There were at least two other stalls just like this...
In Chiddingfold they go one better - the Wheelbarrow of Booze! A chap walks around with a wheelbarrow literally stuffed with bottles - the lucky ticket-holder (only £1 each) gets to take home the entire contents of the wheelbarrow. It's a great sadness to us that we've never won, but we will persevere.
There is also always a beer tent which does a roaring trade in Pimms, and a burger/sausage in a bun incineration station, manned either by local scouts or their mums, which usually smell a lot better than they taste (the burnt offerings, that is, not the mums...) but after two Pimms you won't care and will just eat it anyway.
Burgers & Sausages, Chiddingfold
There's always a central 'performance' area where, year after year, you get to see local schoolkids doing either country dancing or maypole dancing (sometimes both!) and it's always to the same tune, no matter where you go.
21st century Chiddingfold village life normally involves maypole dancing around the burnt out car
Chiddingfold children doing the traditional fertility dance
Both Churt and Chid had the dancing, but Churt also does the Dog Show with various classes such as 'Waggiest Tail' and 'Cutest Puppy', and a children's fancy dress parade which usually takes place after most people have gone home because it takes them forever to organise and sort out the dog show.
Churt Village Fete Dog Show
Chiddingfold, in contrast, has a performance from a local Morris Dancing troupe which consists of half a dozen grandads, usually hepped up on some kind of Olde Englishe Ale, jumping around in the heat with bells tied around their knees, waving hankies and trying not to concuss each other with sticks, to an accompaniment of accordian and fiddle.
Cup Hill Morris Men at Chiddingfold Festival
Chiddingfold also, this year, had a display by the local fire brigade involving the simulation of rescuing someone out of a wrecked car. This is what the bashed up car on the green was for - someone volunteered to be the 'victim', and she was then cut out of the car and carried away over the shoulder of a burly fireman! Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of this.
For the kids who don't drink, there's plenty of other stuff to be going on with, like varying standards of face painting, or catapulting themselves into the stratosphere:
And, if you're lucky, there are some farm animals to go and poke (if you don't have any of your own at home, that is). Churt had goats, a very handsome/ugly Turkey, a couple of to-die-for Kune Kune pigs, chickens, a sheep, guinea pigs and rabbits:
And, rather fabulously, a fake cardboard cow to practise milking on. The udders consisted of the fingers of washing up gloves poked through holes in a bucket - genius!
Churt also had a coconut shy, the local brass band and some hugely entertaining races, including a parent-and-child 3-legged race:
As for Chiddingfold's animals they were, perhaps, more mundane - there was a shetland pony, a beautiful golden Jersey heifer, some sheep, a bunch of rabbits but - what's this? A llama!
Chiddingfold also had a coconut shy but they also had a wet sponge stall which, given the heat of the day, was hugely popular.
And a jazz band, complete with Sousaphone, no less.
I always look forward to the plant stall at Chiddingfold because it's huge and completely fabulous. I've bought Japanese maples from here in the past and this year I got a highly scented Philadelphus.
People watching is a major part of the attraction of running a stall at a village fete, and as soon as I saw this old couple perusing the plants I knew I had to race after them to photograph them. I just thought "Miss Marple" - they could only be English:
Finally, I just had to show you these. Chiddingfold has an especially large bric-a-brac stall (basically people selling their old tat for 50p an item); last year I got a green cut glass vase which started me on my whole collecting of coloured cut glass thing, so, of course I had to check out what they'd got in the hope of finding more coloured cut glass. Sadly, there was none but, arguably, I found something better. Well, a couple of things actually. First of all, I got this animal skull which just appealed to my latent inner Goth:
I didn't know what animal it was - it has a large fin running along the top of it which mean it wasn't a cat or dog skull. After researching it on the intertubes, turns out it used to belong to a European badger, although I prefer a friend's suggestion that it was a baby dragon.
But this is my absolutely pride and joy of this year's Chiddingfold Festival. I mean, how often do you find a perfectly preserved Venezuelan Piranha on a village green in deepest Surrey? How could I possibly resist its bitey charms? A bargain at 50p, I think you'll agree!
So there we have it, the first two fetes of the year are done and dusted and were, as ever, massively enjoyable, if completely shattering. Believe me, it's hard work sitting in the sunshine, eating burgers, drinking Pimms and buying piranhas but as activities go, I certainly commend it to the House.