THE SUMMER FETE
‘Once a girl or a woman is kissed out of the sleep of her
Ignorance by love or suffering – they are generally
synonymous – she gets a grip on reality,
she seizes the concrete in life.’
[The Regeneration of Two. Discords. 1894. George Egerton]
Jenny Pole was a somewhat curious, nervous and rather awkward girl of fourteen years with long auburn hair and large hazel eyes; her frame was slight and to her seemed quite shapeless without the merest hint of feminine beauty, but of course that was how she saw herself and the truth was she stood on the threshold of her own sexual awakening before a Pandora’s box of adventure. Jenny was an only child who lived with her mother Elizabeth, a woman who excelled in her career and failed in romance terribly. Jenny had never known her father and according to her mother he wasn’t much to go by for the relationship was brief and exceptionally uninteresting as they had nothing in common and they never kept in touch after they parted (she didn’t think to mention to him that she was carrying his child at the time).It was the day of the Bournebottom Green Summer Fete and Elizabeth was hurrying Jenny, who didn’t really want to go and would be much happier staying at home with her collection of tea-pots and buttons, or reading one of the many novels she had begun and put down, to get ready as the fete opens at eleven and she didn’t want to miss anything. Despite Jenny’s reluctance to go, she put on a beautiful cream dress which she thought accentuated her frail body and actually gave her the appearance of having womanly curves and she tried to put a brave face on for her mother, who said how pretty she looked.
was a devoted modern woman and
mother to Jenny and treated her as an equal in intelligence and in worldly
matters for there was no reason on earth to hide anything away from the child
as that only causes secrets and allows sin to flourish where sin does not
exist! Do not misinterpret these sentiments for any deep religious or Christian
belief for thoughts in that direction were few in Elizabeth ’s case and only suggested by
phantoms of philosophical ideas and questions in Jenny’s case. Elizabeth worked at a firm of solicitors’ in
town and she had spent all her life at Bournebottom Green, a rural idyllic
village in the heart of Elizabeth ,
dull by the standards of many who enjoy the cosmopolitan splendour and
energetic thrust of most towns and cities. Jenny often thought about things, in
fact she thought about things a lot and was a dreamer, always drifting off into
space and she would discuss matters with her mother for there was a great bond
of trust between them; Jenny can remember telling her mother when she was a
little girl that she intended to join with (she refused to use the word ‘marry’
as that implied some sort of religious conviction) a beautiful Indian girl with
large eyes and long lashes, long dark hair and soft dusky skin wrapped in a
colourful and opulent dress, richly embroidered; her mother did not question
this or deter her in any way and to Jenny it seemed inevitable that this was the
course that her life would settle upon for her heart had not changed and she
had no male role models in her world and looked upon the male species as
nothing but ugly and brutal; there would be no Prince Charming or brave White
Knight sweeping her off her feet, they did not exist, not even in her dreams
for she dreamt of beautiful strong women making their way in the world and free
to love as men love without any notion of fear or regret. She painted a perfect
picture of love, happiness and devotion and her mother did not discourage her
in this for we have over-reached the point where the shadow of fear for loving
someone of one’s own sex had long diminished and freedom of choice in one’s
sexuality was an important matter and an inevitable journey for the young.
Jenny did not question the identity of her father and rarely mentioned him and
on the whole the strong figures in her life were the women she knew and the
women she read about but most of all she looked up to her mother! England
At the Fete mother and daughter walked into the big marquee tent which had been erected on the Green and held the various stalls and such events from the Best Beard contest to the Ugly Baby competition which were scheduled throughout the day; they stayed a while looking at the jams and preserves and pickles where Elizabeth chatted a little to Mrs Tollen who chuckled as she thought of her husband sitting there opposite behind his large cabbage in the enormous vegetable contest and she couldn’t help wondering which was more intelligent, husband or cabbage and every time she came to the same conclusion that it was the latter! Jenny had wandered off to look at the snail races, their polished shells painted different colours using nail varnish and all lined up and roaring to go; a small, snotty brat of a boy with an exceedingly freckled face and his own snail trails permanently adorning his upper lip from his nose to his mouth signalled the off by blowing a loud raspberry, he could have been a champion raspberry blower for he was quite deafening in his purpose to be heard! And the snails raced towards the finishing line as only snails are able to do, a finishing line which by the way was drawn with an old biro on a sheet of white paper a few inches from the starting line and it would take at least half an hour Jenny deduced to complete; Jenny quickly tired of such high-octane entertainment and went back to her mother who was amongst the mammoth marrows in the strange vegetable section where prizes were given for various shapes and sizes; chief among the marrows were Mr Hughes who was wearing a dark suit and a buttonhole as if in attendance at a wedding and Mr Potkins in a pink shirt with a green tie, both bearing facial whiskers of some distinction as they were favourites to win in the Best Beard competition, Mr Potkins winning it two years running with his mutton chops, little Vandyke beardlet and waxed, curled moustache combination while Mr Hughes was sporting a fine and wild bush of peculiar pomposity! Jenny’s mother was drawn towards a stall selling ribbons and pretty lace while Jenny lingered awhile by the marrows and overheard the remnants of a conversation which had taken place between them as Mr Hughes said ‘the vicar is more than conspicuous by his absence!’ and Mr Potkins agreed and retorted ‘I’m afraid it’s all tea and sex at the vicarage now!’ Jenny wondered why it was all ‘tea and sex at the vicarage now’ and smiled at Potkins thinking he looked like some exotic wild bird in his pink and green ensemble and Mr Hughes came behind Potkins saying ‘c’mon Henry, I won’t have no moon cow makin’ eyes at you like that!’ They were like two old women thought Jenny as she gazed at the humongous marrows upon their table that they nursed like sick children, two bearded maids protecting and mothering their unsightly marrows and she imagined them sitting at home in their feminine enclave all badly applied eye-shadow and lipstick dressed in oversized frocks and undersized women’s lingerie and calling each other Mary and Doris, and it brought a wry smile to her lips. Just then the lady organising the ugly babies’ contest, Mrs Jaggs caught her eye and she could not help thinking how much the poor woman resembled a nun in that blue and white outfit which was a terrible choice but she can’t be a nun she thought, nun’s are married to Jesus when they take Holy Orders being brides of Christ and all that and I know for a fact that Mrs Jaggs by all accounts is married to Mr Jaggs! Jesus must have a lot of wives with all those nuns betrothing themselves to him and falling at his feet and if he were here on earth he’d be wanted by the police for bigamy! I’m sure of that! I suppose being who he is he can get away with that sort of thing; they don’t say much about that in the churches do they? I wonder if a nun ever divorced Jesus because she stopped loving him or she assumed he was unfaithful to her in some way?
Just then, Jenny recognised the beautiful features and superb figure of Miss Samantha Wandell who was presiding over the decorated cakes stall; she seemed like a poetic vision of perfect beauty in a pretty red and white dress, sitting behind a large
Next to the floral display which was all the beautiful handiwork of Mrs Sanderson-Lowe was the curiously named ‘Guess the weight of the Tramp’, a raffle in which the winning weight would be rewarded with a marvellous hamper care of Dobbs and Dawson in the High Street. Jenny recognised the ‘tramp’ as Mr Hengis, the former History teacher from her
Jenny looked around after the disturbance, her bewitching eyes searched for those of Samantha but she had gone in the commotion and was not to be seen. Outside the Bournebottom Green Morris were busy singing and dancing which drew Jenny to the door of the tent to watch and her mother joined her there, half roaring with laughter and half upset by the devastating scene she had witnessed. But all Jenny could think about was Samantha Wandell!
As mother and daughter wandered from the tent, Elizabeth chuckling to herself, there was an announcement over the speakers to say that a minor disturbance had occurred in the competition and display tent and that it would be closed for the rest of the afternoon but it went on to say that the Annual Ladies’ Septuagenarian Steeplechase would take place shortly and can spectators please make their way to the race course. The announcer then gave a list of the runners and riders which were making their way to the starting line: ‘at number one we have Mrs Josephine Harper, aged seventy-six, riding King Harold; she was last year’s winner you will remember on Time for Tea and has been widowed twice and in her spare time she enjoys ballroom dancing and studying and preparing herbal medicine (with two husbands underground I shall definitely not be going to her with my psoriasis); at number two is a bit of upper class alright, Lady Mary Tremaigne, aged seventy-two, riding For Gawd’s Sake, she does a lot of work for the church and helped raise much-needed funds for the old town Hall which has since fallen down; number three is Mrs Amanda Collins, aged seventy-eight, riding Push-Up Bra, she lives alone with her three cats and likes nothing better than a quiet night with a romantic novel – good for you Mrs Collins! On number four we have our oldest rider Mrs Olive Banner, aged seventy-nine, riding What will the Neighbours Think, she is recently widowed and says that she hasn’t much to live for these days, well let’s hope she find enough incentive to make it round the course today! And at number five is Mrs Geraldine Chive, aged seventy-six, riding Not Enough Sex, well I hope if she’s lucky today she’ll be revising that statement and getting lots of what she’s missing! At six is Mrs Sylvia Hoskins, aged seventy-one, riding Not in my Back Yard; and last but not least at number seven is Mrs Mary Whittaker, the youngest of our riders at seventy years of age and making her first appearance, riding Mephistopheles. And so ladies and gentlemen there we have the runners and riders and fate is in their wrinkly hands today!’
Jenny and her mother made their way to the race course which was ran over several fields near the Old Hobbledehoy Public House. After a few minutes of adjustments the horses and riders were ready to take their places and then the official signalled the start with a pistol.
‘And at the start of the annual Bournebottom Green Ladies’ Septuagenarian Steeplechase all seven riders have got off to a good start and are steadily approaching the first hurdle – the Triple-Bypass; slowly taking the lead is number two, Lady Mary Tremaigne on For Gawd’s Sake closely followed by number four, Mrs Olive Banner on What will the Neighbours Think, next is number seven, Mrs Mary Whittaker on Mephistopheles and on the inside is last year’s winner and favourite number one Mrs Josephine Harper on King Harold just ahead of number five Mrs Geraldine Chive on Not enough Sex and next is number six Mrs Sylvia Hoskins riding Not in my back yard as number three Mrs Amanda Collins is in the rear with Push-Up Bra. And as they approach the first fence of the Triple-Bypass its For Gawd’s Sake still taking the early lead as all the runners and riders make the first jump successfully and hurtle towards the second fence, and oh, For Gawd’s Sake refuses to jump and What will the Neighbours Think takes the lead followed by Mephistopheles, King Harold and Not enough Sex and then Not in my back yard with Push-Up Bra and For Gawd’s Sake now at the rear with a despondent and angry looking Lady Mary Tremaigne in the saddle! They are all swiftly over the third hurdle of the Triple-Bypass and its going to be anyone’s race from what we can see!
Jenny felt small and lost amongst the crowd cheering and shouting but was caught up in the excitement of the race, which for a moment had replaced the romantic feelings she contained in her heart!
Steadily they take the first corner, Coffin Corner as it’s so named where we find young Peter Braithewaite, The Crying Child. ‘Don’t worry ladies and gentlemen; the young lad is only intermittently poked and prodded with that sharp stick wielded by the Vicar’s assistant Mr Mildew to make him cry and appeal to our rider’s sense of nurturing motherhood, thus tempting them from their mounts and instant disqualification from the race!’ The boy Braithewaite screamed and balled in floods of tears as Mr Mildew jabbed at him in the ribs and in the buttocks. ‘Fortunately none of our septuagenarians have been drawn by the mothering instinct and the race continues apace as they speed towards the next hurdle – The Scythe!
And as they take the jump it’s What will the Neighbours Think still ahead closely followed by King Harold, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex, Push-Up Bra, Not in my back yard and For Gawd’s Sake still in the rear. As they take Tea-Shop Corner where no-one seems the least bit tempted by the strong tea and sticky buns the brave old biddies hurtle towards the next hurdle which in the past has had many fatalities – Pensioners’ Peril!
And at the jump it’s What will the Neighbours Think followed by Mephistopheles, King Harold and neck and neck are Push-Up Bra and Not enough Sex with For Gawd’s Sake just ahead of Not in my back yard.’ And on the next straight run which is known as the Devil’s Ride we have the charming Mrs O’Hara seated in a very comfortable chair beckoning to the riders to come and sit with her as she has some very interesting gossip to relate concerning the Vicar Mr Sampson Trimble and Martin Splicer the baker’s boy and not to mention who’s doing this with that and what to who and why and when and how but none of the riders are in the slightest bit interested in town gossip today, at least not at the moment for they have a greater concern as they approach the fearful and the murderous next hurdle – nan’s nemesis itself: the Widdow-maker!
‘Yes folks the Widdow-maker, one-hundred per-cent solid knitted wool; three-feet wide by six-feet high! And the horses strain towards the deadly mountain of wool and the first one over is King Harold closely followed by Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex and oh there goes Mrs Geraldine Chive who slips in the stirrups and for a moment seems to fall backwards but regains herself and close behind is Push-Up Bra and What will the Neighbours Think, For Gawd’s Sake and Not in my back yard in seventh place.’ Runners and riders now have to tackle the rattle of machine guns as they approach Machine Gun Alley, where three machine guns firing papier-mâché bullets at the riders incessantly try to deter these sweet old ladies from proceeding any further or failing that to knock them to the ground – ‘the bullets do not enter the skin I am told but do leave a nasty bruise on these old dears and several successive shots can cause irrevocable damage! Once again it’s King Harold in the lead with Not enough Sex in second place, Mephistopheles in third, Push-Up Bra in fourth, What will the Neighbours think in fifth and oh, Mrs Olive Banner there almost coming off from a volley of well-aimed shots to the head there, well done Mrs Banner! And in sixth place is For Gawd’s Sake with Not in my back yard still in the rear!’
Suddenly there was a blur as Mr Samuel Bedford, long-standing resident of the parish rushed from the cosy confines of the Old Hobbledehoy Public House and into the street and made his way to the race; minutes later he was seen dashing from the side of the Widdow-maker and along Machine Gun Alley towards Death’s Door wearing nothing but his wrinkled skin and inebriated shame. Mr Bedford was competing in a very long traditional rite of passage known as the ‘horseless jockey’ whereby a streaker (for some reason always male) makes the perilous run between the two fences across Machine Gun Alley, pelted by paper bullets. ‘And there goes our “horseless jockey” who this year seems to be Samuel Bedford, much frequenter of the Hobbledehoy and known for his cheery outlook and good humour! Cheer him on ladies and gentlemen and give him a big hand. Those of you with small children may wish to look away!’
Jenny gazed at Samuel Bedford’s genitals and could not tear her eyes from his pendulous gonads with his half-aroused member casually swinging like a pendulum to and fro as if marking time, second by second in an uncased grandfather clock or one of those Swiss clocks, his white wispy hair lying like snow upon his head, she half expected a cuckoo to appear from his mouth! As she stood watching the drunken old fool with his manhood swaying like the sword of Damocles wielded by a bleary-eyed old man before her she could not help thinking what an ugly thing is the conduit from which all human life springs! She said to herself that she would never let such a thing near her! The resemblance to Joseph Stalin was quite remarkable and made it all the more comical! ‘Surely he’s breaking some sort of indecency law?’ Janet said aloud not really expecting an answer and a voice behind her said – ‘no, the police turn a blind eye and get free drinks in the Old Hobbledehboy!’ It was Samantha Wandell who stood behind her like a magnificent vision of summer loveliness drinking a bottle of cold lemonade through a straw! Jenny’s heart beat faster in her small bosom as she looked shyly at her and as her mother said ‘oh hi Samantha is your mother well?’ ‘Yes thank you!’ Samantha answered, looking intensely into Jenny’s eyes as she spoke. Jenny felt bold and gazed back into Samantha’s sparkling eyes and smiled so beautifully. There were cheers of victory for the old gent parading his genitals to the crowd, his red nose matching his red spotty bottom which disappeared into a hedgerow to regain his sense of dignity and inebriated composure once more and he would celebrate his win with a night of endless beers and congratulations at the Old Hobbledehoy! Jenny’s heart throbbed uncontrollably, so much she thought it would burst from her breast!
‘And as the riders approach the next hurdle several can be seen crossing themselves as traditionally this hurdle, like the Widow-maker, has taken many a frail old body to its final resting place, it is of course – Death’s Door! Previous riders have told me that the approach to Death’s Door is like approaching a huge wall of black lace that draws you on and smothers you; well let’s see if it smothers any of our riders today! And the first over is King Harold, closely followed by Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex and Push-Up Bra, with What will the Neighbours Think, For Gawd’s Sake in sixth and oh, Mrs Sylvia Hoskins on Not in my back yard takes a tumble after crashing into For Gawd’s Sake and she is on the ground and she is not moving ladies and gentlemen, she is not moving and it seems we have our first casualty’ and swiftly on the scene are the paramedics followed by Mr Joseph Skinks the Undertaker who on this occasion may have been cheated out of his corpse! ‘Let’s give a big round of applause to Mrs Hoskins and let’s hope she pulls through! And as the horses round Incontinence Corner to face the next hazard in a stream of hazards one after the other six riders and horses now dare to approach the next hurdle – the Grim Reaper!
And all the riders make it successfully over the Reaper and the line-up is King Harold ahead by a nose, Push-Up Bra now taking second place followed by Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex and What will the Neighbours Think and For Gawd’s Sake neck and neck as they ride into Sudden Death Corner.’
They now gallop towards the only water jump on the course – The Styx, which to make things interesting has been filled with animal waste kindly donated by Mr Barrows at Shacklewood Farm. ‘Let’s encourage them on ladies and gentlemen and cheer loudly! And so at the Styx first over is King Harold followed by Push-Up Bra, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex, What will the Neighbours think who falters a little at the jump and For Gawd’s Sake who clears it and Lady Tremaigne hangs on well, not bad for a seventy-two year old with pots of money in the bank and on the lookout for a younger man I am told!
And as the runners and riders approach the half-way stage and attempt their second lap of the course it’s King Harold still in the lead by two lengths with Push-Up Bra, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex, What will the Neighbours think and For Gawd’s Sake. And we’ve just been informed ladies and gentlemen that Mrs Sylvia Hoskins who fell at Death’s Door on Not in my back yard has broken her neck in several places and will spend the remainder of her life unable to move so let’s have a big hand for Mrs Hoskins! And as they go round again they approach for the second time the Triple-Bypass! There goes King Harold, Push-Up Bra, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex, What will the Neighbours think a length ahead of For Gawd’s Sake successfully through all three hurdles of the Bypass!
And they’re really giving that little lad a good poking with that sharp stick as the screams and tears fail to move the most resolute of riders to any sense of motherly duty! And as they round Coffin Corner once more looming into view is the Scythe!
Over the Scythe one by one they go: King Harold, Push-Up Bra, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex, What will the Neighbours think and For Gawd’s Sake in the rear!
And swiftly past Tea -Shop Corner to meet the awful prospect of the Pensioners’ Peril! And over they go, King Harold, Push-Up Bra, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex wobbling a little there, they’re surely tiring now! And behind Not enough Sex is What will the Neighbours think and For Gawd’s Sake still unshakeable in the rear!’
And it seems Mrs O’Hara has had a miserable day today for not one of the riders were interested in her local gossip but I’m sure all shall be revealed in the Bournebottom Green Herald with such headlines a “Scandal shocks village” and “Vicar defrocked as sex rumours persist!” ‘And with the gap between What will the Neighbours think and For Gawd’s Sake closing fast on the Devil’s Ride they are approaching the dreaded Widdow-maker!
And at nan’s nightmare the Widdow-maker it’s King Harold who makes it look easy followed by Push-Up Bra and Mephistopheles and Not enough Sex, then What will the Neighbours think and For Gawd’s Sake and oh there goes Mrs Olive Banner on What will the Neighbours think, taking a really nasty tumble there as she drops to the ground and For Gawd’s Sake rushes into her!’ and the crowed gives a gasp and is hushed into silence and shock for Mrs Banner! Jenny stood there open-mouthed and she could hear Samantha’s deep intake of breath behind her and felt her hand instantly find her own and grasp it! Jenny squeezed it and trembled at the thought of her sudden intimacy and almost subconsciously thanked Mrs Banner for the sacrifice of her part in the race for her own tender satisfaction and almost regained faith in an Almighty being, but not altogether, she was quite content to have the hand of Miss Samantha Wandell in hers, at least it restored her faith in love and romance!
Joseph Skinks the undertaker, appearing on the scene like Dr Praetorius from the classic film The Bride of Frankenstein, his large nostrils scenting the distinctive and familiar odour of death, runs onto the race track like a grisly black spider after its web has been pulled, before the Paramedics and pronounces life extinct. He then struggles with the body and the coffin in a grim dance macabre that left little to the imagination as he pulled and pushed the late Mrs Banner into the box and dragged it off the course; like a dreadful black dung beetle scuttling away with his prize he hurried the bloody remains of Mrs Banner to a place of safe-keeping. ‘And so we have our first fatality! Seventy-nine years old ladies and gentlemen and didn’t she put up a brave fight!’ Jenny’s mother looked with sad eyes at Jenny and stroked her hair with her soft hand and pulled her close towards her. Samantha pulled her hand free from Jenny’s and stroked her arm as she looked round she could see tears in Samantha’s eyes, Samantha sniffed and said ‘she only just lost her husband, poor old Olive!’ and Jenny felt a tear come to her eye too. Jenny’s mother who also had tears in her eyes comforted the two girls as they huddled together a little – but the race continued!
‘And so they are into Machine Gun Alley once more and the guns are relentless as ever!
And Mrs Josephine Harper on King Harold is pelted with a hail of bullets which knocks her from the saddle but through sheer courage and determination she hangs on but has fallen back into second place as Push-Up Bra now takes the lead position, and wait, Mrs Whittaker is off, she’s been knocked from her horse Mephistopheles by a tirade of bullets that really tore into this sturdy dame and has sadly ended the race for Mephistopheles! She’s waving so she seems to be fine! I’m sure we shall see her again next year ladies and gentlemen as long as she is not snatched from life by that old grim spectre Death! And behind King Harold is Not enough Sex and For Gawd’s Sake.
At Death’s Door, you’ll remember Mrs Sylvia Hoskins had her mobility taken away so cruelly by this great black silken thread of a fence that seems to suck all the life from the riders and shall we see again life being thrown away so carelessly! At the approach it’s Push-Up Bra followed by King Harold with Not enough Sex and For Gawd’s Sake neck and neck in third place!’
Jenny looked round behind her but Samantha had gone and a sudden sense of sadness descended upon her. Her mother pulled her close, sensing some strangeness in her behaviour but not really knowing why Jenny felt such love and loss so instantaneously and so intensely.
‘And as they round Incontinence Corner they approach the disturbing sight of the Grim Reaper who has come to cut them down as Mrs Banner was so cruelly cut down just a few moments ago ladies and gentlemen. Well as ever the Annual Ladies’ Septuagenarian Steeplechase never fails to delight and so far it’s been a spectacular race with one death and at least one casualty!
And the Grim Reaper fails to collect another death today as horse and rider brush him aside saying “not today mister death!” and they fly over in succession – Push-Up Bra, King Harold, Not enough Sex and For Gawd’s Sake. And so they round Sudden Death Corner on the approach to the Styx water jump which is the last obstacle in the race before they pound it out to the end and at the Styx it’s Push-Up Bra, followed by King Harold and Not enough Sex and then For Gawd’s Sake who you will remember took the early lead and now sits disappointed in last place! All safely over the Styx they hurtle towards the finishing line and on the inside is Push-Up Bra a length ahead of King Harold and pulling in front of Not enough Sex is For Gawd’s Sake given a last minute reprieve we wonder as she strides ahead of Not enough Sex to take third place and at the finishing post it’s Push-Up Bra closely followed in second place by King Harold and For Gawd’s Sake in third and Not enough Sex in fourth place! A big hand ladies and gentlemen for Mrs Amanda Collins on Push-Up Bra, she was seventy-eight just a week ago so belated birthday wishes and I’m sure she’ll be having a glass or two tonight!’ The crowd roared and the crowd cheered and the spectacle of the Annual Ladies’ Septuagenarian Steeplechase had come to an end, just as the life of poor old Mrs Banner had come to an end!
And so another Bournebottom Green Summer Fete draws to its close and for Jenny who would treasure the rose given to her by the beautiful Samantha who would haunt her dreams for a long time to come, many opportunities, revelations and romantic fancies were opened, disclosed and sown and over the coming weeks and months who knows what delicious seeds will grow from the fertile mind of Miss Jenny Pole!