The Great Escape: My village fete was better than Glastonbury.

The Independent (London, England); 7/19/2004
By Alex James

PROFESSOR DUMBLEDORE looked as though he might burst into tears. So I moved swiftly along to a bewhiskered girl dressed in orange with a striking tail made out of tights. That sort of style doesn't come off the shelf, but I did have to ask the little lady who she was. "Puss in Boots", she protested.

"Of course you are, excuse me."

Next I recognised a Spider-Man, whose mother had already approached me, and a little Henman; while there was also a brilliant, moustachioed, stripy-topped strongman with papier mache dumbbells, a shivering synchronised swimmer, and various fairies, princesses and angels. I moved along the line exchanging the sort of platitudes appropriate for a judge at the village fete - "How are you?". "Vair vair busy."

In the end I gave first prize to an elaborate pantomime-horse-and-rider collaboration. The horse's back legs were new to show business and a little overexcited.

My rock 'n' roll royal duties performed, I went for a wander. There was a very smiley, bearded man with some skittles. I liked him immediately. He started telling me about his dog. I knocked over five skittles, and it felt good. Skittles is a far superior game to tenpin bowling, which is all about having the right equipment.

"Splat the rat" was the challenge at the next stall, which comprised a 2m length of plastic drain pipe and a jolly lady with a huge silk flag. Hidden from view behind the flag, she whizzed the "rats" (made from tights) down the pipe. You had to stand at the bottom of the pipe with a rounders bat. Whack the fleeing rat and you'd win a Quality Street, but it was the sport that was the real draw. I imagine that baseball was descended from a game like this, if not all bat-and-ball games. I got nowhere near the dratted rat - the jaunty lady was a mean pitcher.

The coconut shy was in the hands of the local judge. My first five balls went nowhere, but I felt I was getting my eye in and bought another five for 50p. Aiming for the coconut at the front in the middle, I knocked the one at the back on the left clean off its perch. There was a huge cheer. I explained that it was accidental, but the judge told me to keep quiet. My next shot somehow dispatched the one I was aiming for. I was on a hat-trick. There was a genuine hush and thrill of anticipation. I missed. So, sadly, I am still the bloke from Blur and not the bloke who managed to knock over three coconuts. Somebody got three rats last year. A rat-trick - legendary.

I couldn't get the football in the hole, was crap at the Aunt Sally, and didn't fancy the greasy pole or the plate smashing. But I did realise that it is just so much more fun to actually do sporty things, however badly, than to watch them done brilliantly. There should be more crappy sports on the telly to encourage us.

Later, I went to the big marquee where the ladies were doing the stewed tea, and had a fat slice of quiche. There was a band playing "Fly Me To The Moon". I sat next to a beaming pair of seniors and showed them my coconut. The sun came out and it was perfect.

On the book stall everything was 50p, with kids' books 20p. It's how much books should be. For 50p I thought I'd have a look at some Nietzsche. Got a little hardback called The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen; a Penguin book on Celtic mythology; a big Dick Francis for Mrs NJ and a bunch of stuff about ghosts, weirdness and the supernatural. Oh, and a copy of Goldilocks And The Three Bears.

There was maypole dancing to hiddly-diddly music I haven't heard since I was a child - it was powerful to hear forgotten music in the sunshine. As the three-legged races started I drifted off, calm and content. They're better than Glastonbury, your village fete, I reckon.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.