Am I the only one who gets excited by the thought of fairs, carnivals, fetes and festivals? I was beginning to think so until last Saturday.
I’ve done many, many similar onusthans and picnics in Bangladesh for numerous celebrations such as the Bengali new year, Victory Day and so on – but never (to my knowledge) an actual truly English dyed-in-the-wool village fete. It’s taken me 43 years to get there. The last time I recall bunting being up all over town was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee back in 1977.
I’ve been to plenty of church fetes and town festivals and carnivals but the village affair (which turned out to be just like the kind of thing you’d see on Midsomer Murders as I imagined it would) I’ve never had the opportunity to enjoy.
To be fair, before living in Bangladesh I probably wouldn’t have been fussed. Judging by how my teenager daughter, Thing I, reacted and how she reported what her friends thought of the annual event (“it’s really boring“) I don’t think much has changed since I was a teenager. I grew into adulthood thinking such community events were the epitome of dullness (My son, Thing II, at least is still young enough to enjoy the event – but that won’t last for long; the teenage years are coming).
But after enjoying the fascinating culture of Bangladesh and really getting in to what it means to be a community, I couldn’t wait to experience the English version; and there’s no better place to experience it than here in St. Bees. With one solitary exception (which I will come to later) I was not disappointed.
The fete began promptly at 1 pm with a parade down the single main street the village possesses. The sun came out in all its glory for the first time this year and remained out the entire day – as did all those who came to enjoy the fete. Of course, the pubs did brisk business which helped encourage the crowds to remain!
After the Whitehaven Brass Band passed by we were treated to the fancy dress competitors. Considering this is a little seaside village I was stunned by how good these costumes were.
We were then led up to the local school field for the fete itself.
Especially noteworthy was the traditional Tug of War competition which, it had to be said, treated the sexes with surprising equality.
The fete carried on into the evening with performances from Whitehaven’s Committed 2Rock Choir and various bands. Most important, however, was the traditional Hog Roast. Those who don’t like seeing pork might want to look away now. For the rest of us – it was delicious!
All in all this was a terrific day out with everything as I had hoped and expected it would be – except for one small matter which, in retrospect, I should have seen coming but was still disappointed.
There’s a fine line between English tomfoolery and pure rudeness. There’s a fine line between enjoying a tipple or two and becoming an obnoxious drunk.
As the evening wore on, behaviour deteriorated among a few of the boys and men. Nothing so bad as to need police action or even neighbourly complaint but enough to make the environment no longer so pleasant for families. A group of teenage boys circled around the main field shouting insults and mocking anyone they could. They threw a couple of comments my way too as I took pictures and I couldn’t help but ponder the need of the English youth to try and throw their testosterone around.
We decided to leave and passed the same pub which earlier had been the haven of walkers and locals alike enjoying sunshine, beer and good conversation. Now I watched a young man attempt to kick the lights out of a taxi which was reversing in the road. He only missed because he was so unsteady on his feet – as was his companions egging him on. The expression on his face made the dead hog I’d just eaten seem more human than he and it saddened me to think how the English let themselves down across the country at the weekends – even in little vestiges of tranquility like St Bees – with behaviour betrays the lie that we’re the most ‘civilized’ in the world. What nonsense!
But no matter. Every village has to have its village idiots and clearly St. Bees is no different to any other village, town or city in the UK. But what it does have is a lovely beach – and so my family and I ended the evening with a stroll down there to watch the waves crash against the shore in sublime peace before returning home to sleep after a thoroughly enjoyable day.
The day may not have taken away the pain of no longer living in a Bangladeshi community, but it did at least show me there is a community here where I live which I can grow to love just as much. I think that’s worth celebrating.