I told the Vicar last year I wasn’t going to do it again.   I wasn’t getting any younger, I said, and its time some of the more agile ones took over.   All that setting up and taking down, it’s too much, me with my legs.

So he thanked me very nicely, and even mentioned how hard I’d worked when he gave the notices out on the Sunday morning.   Well, so he ought, but it was good of him, I must say, even though I doubt anyone heard it through the clatter those kids make as they all go out.   That Jason Thomas, I swear he kicks the pews on purpose, in my young day we’d have got a clip round the ear as soon as we’d gone into the school room, but now of course you can’t touch them.

Where was I?   Oh yes, the Church Fete.   Well, this year, the Vicar, I mean, he caught me just as I had my hands full of wet daffs, ready for the Easter decorations, dripping all over the aisle, they were.

“As you feel you can’t organise the fete this year, Mrs. Stringer, I thought I’d ask Mrs. Mullins if she would do it, though I know she’s busy with the Mothers’ Union, plus that poor old uncle of hers”.

Well, I scarcely knew what to say!   That Rose Mullins to take over my Fete, she couldn’t organise the tea tent last year, they ran out of tea bags halfway through and young Gary had to get on his bike and rush down to the shop.   I couldn’t see her getting everything done by the time they’d brought our Mr. Middleton in to open it.   I say “our” because he’s our MP, lives up at what used to be Hogg’s Farm until old Charlie Hogg died, and his boys sold it to the Middletons.   Course they did it all up, the Middletons, I mean, sold some of the land, and called it Yew Tree Cottage.   I must say, he always makes a pleasant little speech, being a Conservative he speaks quite nicely, though I’m Labour myself, and he and his wife always go round the stalls and buy things.

But I digress!   So I said to the Vicar, “Vicar”, I said “Maybe I was a bit overtired last year, with all the rain and that, and that poor Rose Mullins has her hands full with her old Uncle Jim, and it wouldn’t be right to ask her, with him in his condition, as you know”.

The Vicar looked a bit embarrassed, well, he would, being single and that, and said how much he appreciated what I did.   So I took the daffs down to the front of the church, and started trying to get all to face the same way.   But I was still seething inside, I can tell you!   Rose Mullins, indeed, she’d have all her cronies from the Mothers’ Union on the stalls, and then where would my ladies be?

So I began marshalling my forces.   Ethel Willard always takes the cake stall, it being one of the biggest, and certainly the busiest.   She reckoned on clearing it within half and hour, bar the tarts and fancy cakes which always linger a bit.   She’s very quick with money, having been the cashier at the Co-op for so long, and she won’t stand any nonsense from the customers.   She brought those four boys up on her own after Bill died so suddenly, and everyone of them a credit to her.   “I must make sure Joan Hibbert doesn’t make those rock cakes this time” she told me “We had to put them in a carrier bag and give them to Fred for his pigs last year”.

I knew I could trust Ethel with the cakes.   Little Mary Wright was another stalwart, she always takes the fancy goods – knitted bits and pieces and tray cloths and the like.   The elderly folk like things like that.   Anything left over she takes to her niece over Winsford way.   She’s with the Methodists there and puts the bits and pieces in their fete.   They are far enough away for no-one to recognise their stuff, you see.

The Guides and Brownies do some of the sideshows, guessing how many sweets in a bottle and the weight of a cake and that sort of thing.   We always weigh the cake, but I just say pick a number in the middle for the sweet jar, no one’s going to argue.

The Scouts do the silly things like throwing wet sponges at someone and chucking balls at crockery, it mostly keeps them out of mischief, though the Scoutmaster, John Norris keeps a good eye on them – he has to after what happened a couple of years back.

I wish we could have a tombola or a raffle, but Arnold, the Churchwarden is adamant such things are unbiblical or something and the Vicar’s always nervous of him, so we never have them.   Its no good arguing, he’s on the parish Council, and we always have the fete on the Recreation Ground, and have to get the Council’s permission, so that’s that.

Philip Munroe does the bookstall, but then he’s got that second hand bookshop over Knutsford way.   He always gives us a tidy sum, but I’m sure he takes the good ones for his shop.   Still he’s got a van, and those books are heavy, so I don’t enquire.

By the time I’ve got everyone sorted, they all know exactly what they are doing, and when, and all that.   Vi’s army, people call them.   I like people who co-operate with me.   I’ll not have that Rose Mullins pushing in with her Mothers’ Union cronies.   A Mrs. Sandford, from those new houses down by the water meadows – real damp they’ll be in the winter – came to see me and suggested having a Fortune Teller!

“Mrs. Sanders”, I said, coldly like “This is a Church Fete and the Bible specifically warns us against such things”.   She look a bit confused, as well she might, as to my certain knowledge she’s never set foot in the church since the Carol Concert.

I don’t know though.   It’s a lot of work, and hardly any thanks.   There’s all the clearing up – the Scouts go round picking up litter and bits, but they fool around so, you can’t trust them.   Last year a man with a metal detector thing said could he run it over the ground – he found about £10 in various coins, but I made him give it into the Fete fund – that’s church money, I said, you can’t just take it.   Don’t think he’ll come this year, muttered something about finders being keepers, and dodged off when the Vicar came up.   Some folk’ll try anything to line their own pockets.

Maybe I’ll give it up, it’s a lot of work, like I said.    But I’ll keep my mouth shut till I’ve had a bit of a break – that Rose Mullins isn’t going to take it, over my dead body!

©Gillian Peall


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