I do love church fetes… and school ones too. And I especially love the one I help out at twice a year! So I was really looking forward to my church Summer Fayre.

The bric a brac is great – so much stuff to wade through! And the customers love dredging through the baskets of old jewellery and buttons, it seems almost therapeutic for some of them – in fact I know it is – it consumes the mind and seems to almost help to unravel various problems. As we untangle knots and twists in chains and thread, so we become determined to solve the mess.  In the same way we try to solve everyday problems…

I watch people enthralled with unknotting a necklace twisted up with a cotton reel or some such – they concentrate as if their life depends on it! All part of the fun of a traditional church fete… even the dealers queueing early, monacles in hand, hoping for treasure… so we were rather worried when an ‘experiment’ in modernisation threatened it…

The last two had been disappointing – mostly rented out stalls, higher prices and just bouncy castles for children. To say people were disappointed was an understatement. Some swore to never come again. Where were the old ladies serving tea and selling hand-knitted teddy bears and doilies? What about the home made cakes? And the second hand glass and china we inspect every year? Where was it all? We wanted it back!…. Give it back!

And so, this year – some of it did return! Oh the joy of the endless array of china, glass, mirrors, jewellery, badges, games, threads, buttons, ‘antiques’, kitchenware, you name it, all kinds of stuff you had to examine to try to figure out what it was – binoculars? A hat? A bowl? Who knows! But what fun!

There was stuff that gets put back under the stage each year and lots of new stuff too. And people seemed so happy to have the traditional stalls back. Don’t children get dumped on bouncy castles every weekend in their local pub while mum and dad enjoy the beer garden? So why do we need them at a church fete! No, let the kids run around, play, get their faces painted, make things as well as new friends – it’s the church fete after all!

We worked hard, we chatted, we smiled, we examined things to try to offer some sort of idea of what they were, we unravelled jewellery, polished glass and tried to display things prettily without them smashing. People came back to show us what they’d bought at other stalls and to see how we were doing. Every now and then we dragged another box from under the table and put that out too.  If you looked carefully there were some lovely things – I even found myself remembering some of the stories behind some of the stuff – my mum’s china, my nan’s glasses, an unwanted birthday present, I never did know what this was for…!

The sun bobbed in and out, the rain tried to make an appearance, sunglasses went on and off as did jackets, and we ducked in and out from under the marquee… Some customers came back a few times and a couple of lovely people gave us drinks to keep us going… and even some old friends popped in to say hello. What IS it about a church fete that makes everybody happy?

For me, it’s the tradition. And the people. Plus it reminds me of being at school! My grandmother visited fetes regularly with her friends. They would have a rummage, a cup of tea, a gossip, and go home happy to examine their purchases, having set the world to rights. And we went too. Fetes were everywhere back then! I even continued going as a teenager, looking for clothes to adapt, shoes and bags to spray, chunky jewellery, and so on, and we loved it!

There were always quality things hidden away as well.  But now with the advent of such cheap throwaway clothing everywhere it’s not half as much fun. I bought quite a bit of stuff too – even before I put it in my bag I remember smiling and thinking ‘oh well I can always donate it back next year :-)..)  A silver cigar ashtray ended up being given to a friend for their birthday – he appreciated the sentiment… (I think…)

Do you know what? People still love a fete just as much as ever. There was every age group and every level of income at the church fete I helped at, from kids to grandparents and everything in between. We thoroughly enjoyed it. And as I looked around, it occurred to me that this is it, this is what we are fighting for – our tradition our culture, our history, our way of life, down to the finest detail. A cup of tea, a home made cake, some second hand china with old English roses painted on it, some once loved jewellery, potted plants, strawberries and cream, dubious weather… All British life can be found at the church fete, in minute and deeply detail. So quintessentially British.

And as for the stuff we didn’t sell – it took twice as long to pack away of course! Globalisation? Posh cafes? Chain stores.. online shopping? Keep it! Give me a church fete any day.  All human life is here, a feast of memories and nostalgia, things that belonged to people perhaps long gone, but donated and waiting on a stall for the next person to enjoy. And all served up in a few hours.

Come along – throw yourself in – for the deeper you dig, the more you will find the history of our very way of life. ‘Life is in the detail’ the saying goes, and so it is…Here’s to the church fete! And Great Britain. Long may they both continue!

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