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The Village Fête

This is the post excerpt.

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It’s one of the hottest days of the year as I write this.


Having spent the early part of the day preparing for the joy that is the village fête, I considered my wardrobe for the season. A plain white t-shirt, destined to have endless adverts for Movie Night ironed on it, lay prone and sodden at the bottom of the washing machine.


Said washing machine, quite new and melodious (every wash comes accompanied by a selection of rather exciting beeps), had gone kaput on Tuesday. The reason for this irksome and slightly bewildering development was that bindweed had grown into the outflow pipe, and built a plug with hair from Tara, the Labrador.


One quick visit from the plumber, and the washing machine was back to the old sing and spin. Delightful. That was Tuesday. It’s now Saturday.

I’m not sure what happened over the last few days; there was nothing on TV, I’m certain of that. Our lives have become smaller due to binge-watching of box-sets. I’m a fool for Ian McShane, and he’s in everything at the moment. In any case, the washing sat in the machine for the next few days, and so the plainest of my t-shirts went unadulterated by slogans and unworn for the fête.


The fête is a village event. There are other events in the locale over the summertime, but this one is closely associated with the school, and thus there were thousands of children in attendance. Grown people sauntered in shorts and strappy tops, factor three-thousand sun cream; lower bum cheeks hanging thickly, like bald-man neck fat.


The issue is not, and never has been, that people dress for a time when they were thinner. Far from it. All the mums do yoga and Chardonnay – thus, svelte and hollow-cheeked fitness is par for the course. (Not me, obviously. I have a body shape that more closely resembles bug-splat on a windscreen.) The problem, as it seemed to me, was that the various and exhausted dogs who were dragged along to the fête were pant- and overheating.


Not to blow my own trumpet – I will tolerate several levels of idiot, but I can be a little sharp. As such, water bowls were found in pretty short order, and visits to the coconut shy, abbreviated. I will point out, I do not consider myself a spoiler of fun, and I’m quite sure that the thoughtless people came back, having secured their dogs in the shade of home, and were, without doubt, wildly entertained by the bouncy castle and plants’ stall.


I too had to return to the homestead due to the heat. In the apparel of my forebears, jeans and a Guinness t-shirt, I drank a little too much Pimms and retired to the shade of the Legion gazebo. Having worked for the Legion for the last eight years, it was where I was supposed to be for the afternoon. That is, before I found the Pimms stall. However, I was there for a good few hours, talking movies with Valerie and Sam.

I run Movie Night at the Club. Part of my joy for films is that I forget the ending as soon as the disc is back in the box. My partner, and seemingly everybody else’s partner, remembers the whole story. We’ll re-watch something, and Aimée will say, “It’s such a shame that guy dies”.


It’s as if she’s psychic.


Sue was in charge of the egg game: about three dozen empty eggshells stand on a tray of sand, the kids pay 20p a go, and pick one of the eggs. It’s lifted up, and there may or may not be a prize underneath. There usually is. Sid was assisting, in full suit and tie, with Navy beret and cufflinks. I have no idea how he coped in the weather. They build them tough in the Navy.


Sadly, my escape to the tent was to no avail. Indeed, it was the kind of steady, motionless heat that warms the lungs. Down the windy, pockmarked lanes, I staggered, until I reached the house.


If this was America, the village would be something akin to a gated community. But this is England, and we don’t do gates. We do exclusivity in spades, but there’s something rather impolite about gates.


We live in multiple shades of green. Lawns are treated and scarified. Some people have chickens, and sell eggs at the side of the road. Most people are retired. Those of us who aren’t, wish we were. There are book clubs. They seem to know a lot about wine. I’m not sure if they read. Lots of the younger ones came here for the school. Not being a parent, I don’t know too much about it.


Aimée was playing Skyrim when I scurried through the door, and the dogs were dancing around each other. The littlest one has just come into season, so she’s making smells and driving the others mad.


Aimée went through to the kitchen, picked up their bowls, and the dogs went thundering through. Tara is by far the most patient. Doobie barely has the sense he was born with. Poppy insists on making everything about herself. And Pumpkin jumps up and digs at the freezer, because that’s where their food comes from. There is a logic in her simplicity.


Aimée continued portioning out their food, and they were soon nose-deep in ox meat, offal and bones. They didn’t get along with kibble. So many of the kibbles seem to consist of additives and dust. I know, to a lot of people, raw feeding is gross. To be fair, I’m a meat eater, but even so, I don’t hang about when they’re having green tripe or day-old ducklings. Aimée, however, is basically vegetarian. How she manages to chop up lungs, testicles and livers, I may never know.


By this point, I’d had a momentary success and made it off the sofa. A mix of Pimms-related head-spin and sunburn nagged at my brain.
And then it occurred to me: The Legion fête is in six weeks.

And so it begins.

Hello

We’ll meet nearly 80,000 people in our lives. I know, because I’ve just heard it in an advert.

It doesn’t seem possible – 80,000. That’s a lot of names to remember, or forget, depending on how it works out.

Measured against the Christmas cards sent, the Facebook friends, the fellas at the Legion, old school friends, sort of neighbours past and present and however many colleagues from however many careers people have these days, 80,000 still seems like a stretch.

Unless we’re talking about people to smile at on the bus, that’s a huge figure. Actually meeting these people in real life may take a properly thought out Strategy

Probably best to start with a simple greeting.

Hello 👋

Weather

Woke up with a banging brain and an ache in my hip that would suggest I took a tumble overnight. Not to my knowledge, but I shouldn’t be hungover, either.

Perhaps it’s the weather. Some excess electricity in the air. I feel rather breakable but I know it wasn’t the cider.

Aimée walked to work. I have been let off driving duties while I try and get the knit out of my hip.

But it’s raining. There’s a sound coming from the conservatory roof that could be mistaken for applause.

This is the Loophole – the caveat that tells me I can’t let her walk home in this.

She’ll catch the ‘flu, or piles. The hell with early evening telly. I’m driving up the road in diagonal rain. Not right now, of course. I’m typing now.

Big Tall John

When I was thirty, I was dumped from a great height by someone I now recognise was evil.

My buddies congregated around me, filled me up with booze and reassured me that the problem, whatever it was, was not mine.

Among the multitudinous pints of Guinness and the forest of ill-advised jägerbombs, was my friend, John. An exceptionally tall chap, he is also one of the kindest fellas I’ve ever known.

John realised that booze alone was not the answer, so he invited me over to his Static caravan and he made me dinner.

He had gone shopping especially for the occasion. Knowing that I lived alone, and therefore, probably existed solely on microwave food, he made roast lamb, with all the trimmings – potatoes in goose fat, broccoli, carrots, peas, gravy, a four-pack of cans and a film.

It was astonishingly warm in the caravan. Not just because of the roasting meat in the oven, but also because he had his heating set to 24℃, as well as a log fire roaring away in the log burner.

John remains one of my favourite people in the world. He’s a dang good friend and a deeply perceptive one. There’s nothing quite like a perceptive friend who can cook.

On a side note, I can recommend sweating out the heartache.

The Final Stretch

As I head into the final stretch of the manuscript, I find myself desperately trying to Evoke the spirit of Daniel Bedingfield, circa 2002.

I’ll guess that now you’ll struggle to get that song out of your head, as well. Welcome to the team.

The Dolphin and The Leaf

My dad was a carpenter. I’ve heard that the olfactory sense is the strongest of all, and if I got a whiff of sawdust, pipe tobacco and grilled cheese, I’d be straight back to my childhood, so I suppose it must be true.

When I was twenty, I had a hankering for learning something. There were evening classes not too far away, and I signed up to portraiture (at which I was lousy. I made the model look like an alien. I’m still not sure how), sculpture (at which I made the model look like a cadaver. It wasn’t my intention, but I could only work with what she gave me) and wood carving. It made sense, to see if I had anything in common with my dad. I hoped so, because he was the absolute best of people.

When the teacher convened the class, we were given the choice: we could Carve a dolphin or a leaf. The wood we were using was lime, which could be carved with a butter knife, so we only felt a little bit brave picking the more complicated design.

Most of us went for the dolphin.

It was on the wall until I repainted. Lord knows, it’s probably in a drawer now. Once I find it, it’s going back up.