Karen Kay on the fate awaiting our fetes

PUBLISHED: 15:56 27 June 2014 | UPDATED: 15:57 27 June 2014

Karen Kay, writer and broadcaster. Picture by Ian McIlgorm © IAN MCILGORM 2012..

Karen Kay, writer and broadcaster. Picture by Ian McIlgorm © IAN MCILGORM 2012..


The traditional summer scene could disappear from our villages unless younger residents step forward to help, says Karen

There is something quintessentially English about the village fete, with its Morris dancers, coconut shies, tombolas and cream teas. The village green, awash with families frolicking on a balmy summer afternoon, is an Enid Blyton style scenario that fits comfortably with our rose-tinted view of an idyllic rural life.

It is a picture-book scene comprising smiling mothers serving scones and pouring tea into rose-sprigged crockery. Children with rosy cheeks race each other to the ‘splat the teacher’ stall. Old ladies pick through bric-a-brac and the plant stalls, while infants delve deep in the lucky dip with expectation etched on their ice-cream-covered faces.

Across the countryside, Saturday afternoons throughout summer are scattered with these lynchpins of village life. The fete has superseded the vicar’s garden party as an annual gathering that binds together the community. In an increasingly secular society, it is rarely the church that sits at the heart of a hamlet or town, but the fete organising committee, whose yearly jamboree cajoles residents out of their homes for a rare communal gathering.

Now in its 90th year, my local village fete has been organised for the past couple of decades by the same small group of volunteers, led by one man. People travel long distances to enter their pets in the dog show or their lovingly restored vintage vehicles in the classic car section.

The men of the village provide an impressive barbecue, apologising profusely as smoke drifts towards the brass band beneath a canvas gazebo. The cricket pavilion is filled with the tantalising aroma of lemon drizzle cake as the WI don their aprons and peddle perfect bakes to hungry residents.

And all around the cricket square, trestle tables are a hive of activity, with trade that would make Alan Sugar sit up and take note. But if my local fete is anything to go by, we must be careful not to let this stalwart of the summer season fall by the wayside.

Those dependable volunteers who diligently lay on this summer shindig make an annual plea for help. And the number of people willing and able to put in the effort to make it happen is dwindling. As one generation attempts to hand over the reins to another, it is clear we are at risk of losing this much-loved event. For whatever reason, our lives are so consumed with other thing, like work, TV talent shows, social networking and shopping, that getting involved in a community project is no longer a priority for many.

There is an old saying that if you want something doing, ask a busy person. And when I looked around those who invested their time and energy to make the fete happen, setting up stalls, collecting for the tombola, and clearing up on a wet Saturday afternoon, were mostly the people with the most demanding jobs, challenging family circumstances or already undertaking a multitude of other good deeds. Yet, here they are, soaked to the skin as they wrestle with trestle tables, count copper coins and pick up litter after everyone else has gone home.

It has been made clear that unless enough residents step up to shoulder some of the shared responsibility of next year’s fete, it won’t happen. I do hope enough people can find the wherewithal to keep this tradition going. It can evolve to meet the changing needs of our community: perhaps we need to reconsider the entertainment in order to keep it relevant, but to wave goodbye completely to something that sees us all, old and young, mingling happily, would be a travesty in my book.

Lazy, hazy days

My garden is filled with the colours of early summer. I still have an abundance of velvety hellebores skirting a swathe of pretty, pastel-hued tulips dancing in the breeze bringing down the apple blossom. There is nothing like a garden readying itself for summer to fill you with optimism. If they can spring to life after such a miserable winter, budding in the hope that sunny days lie ahead, then I too can lift myself from the doldrums and stop moaning about the weather.

I am not one for sitting still, with idle hands, but the annual ritual of bringing out our sofa swing seat leaves me aching for the opportunity to spend just a few precious minutes coddled amidst its cushioned comfort. When I was small, we spent summer holidays visiting my aunt and uncle’s farm, where they had a similar swing in their kitchen garden. For many years, I dreamed of the same, and a few years back, succumbed in a moment of madness to the allure of an upholstered ‘Old Rocker’ by Odd Ltd. When I should have been spending on plasterers and plumbers and contributing to a pension, romance and whimsy overwhelmed me. Our family now treasure those therapeutic moments spent with our bottoms on the Old Rocker. Whatever the stresses and strains of the day, however busy your mind, however long the to-do list, ten minutes slumped on this heavenly piece of furniture is like spending two weeks in spa as far as I’m concerned.

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