Friday, 17 May 2013

A Fete worse than Death

Mrs Worthington-Smythe shook her head, vehemently,

" No, Belinda, dear ! Your refreshment tent will be beside the Bingo marquee, as usual !"

Then she produced one of her 'smiles', the one that always brought to mind a Great White Shark, just before it sinks its teeth into some poor, helpless victim.

" As Chairperson of the village Anniversary and Fete committee, I really must insist that we retain the 'status quo'. We can't go changing things, willy-nilly, my dear. We have a tradition to uphold."

Poor Belinda sighed and studied her finger-nails, the tried a cannier approach,

" But the noise from the Bingo tent ........"

Her voice trailed off, she could see that it was useless. I gave her a sympathetic grin. I have only lived in the village for eighteen months, but I knew that Belinda was wasting her breath. The Worthington-Smythe woman had moved on to the next item on her agenda and was now discussing the flower and produce stalls. Her voice droned on and on, as she forced her will on the hapless committee members.

The warmth of the sun's rays, beating through the windows of the Village Hall, had a soporific effect on me and I drifted, in that 'half-light', that state of being not asleep but not truly awake. I wondered how I had ever let myself be persuaded to take part in the organisation of this annual event. I had no experience, as such, but I suppose I was following in family footsteps. My beloved Grandmother, now sadly deceased these past six months, had always been active in village matters. She had once been a great traveller, but old age and arthritis and various heart conditions, had made her cease her travels and settle in a tiny cottage in this pretty place.

The village was proud of its heritage and the part it had played in the English Civil war. Apparently, the Cavaliers had made a stand and won a great battle here; some had subsequently made their homes in this delightful area. For years, now, the village had held an annual, week long celebration of all things English. This began with a traditional Fete, continued with various events throughout the week and then culminated the following weekend, with a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and then a celebratory Grand Ball.

I seethed, silently, as I thought of the auditions for the play. Having missed them, last year, I was keen to attend and try for the part of Titania. I had just graduated from Drama College and this would be wonderful experience. My audition had gone extremely well and the Director was very impressed,

" I think we can safely say that we have found our Faerie Queen !" he grinned, delightedly.

But my joy was short-lived. Mrs Worthington-Smythe had burst in, a frown creasing her well-powdered forehead,

" No, no, Jeremy ! I thought it was all arranged. My Jocasta will be Titania, this year ! This, this, er .... person...can be her understudy !"

And that was it, fait accompli. No-one dared argue. All the events were held on Worthington-Smythe land and, although Jocasta was no actress, her family funded the production, provided the venue, everything ! The Director looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, ruefully, then turned to a beaming Jocasta and shook her hand. That was all two months ago and I had dutifully attended every rehearsal and every costume fitting. And bided my time. Waiting.

" So, that's okay, Rosie, dear ? You will be our gypsy, won't you ?"

I startled and blinked and dragged my mind back to the present; back to the committee meeting. I stared, dumb-struck, at the pile of clothes that had suddenly appeared on the table, in front of me.

" You will be our Fortune Teller ? Oh, say you will. I know your Grandmother used to do it, years ago, but that was before my time. And we really can't have Mrs Browning again, she is far too, erm, ah, 'unreliable' !"

Oh, yes, I remembered Mrs Browning's antics, last year. How she had lurched about, full of sherry and 'bon-homie', her turban tilted, precariously on the curly wig. A streamer of toilet tissue trailing from the waistband of the spangled skirt, as she accosted every male, be he gentleman, Lord or lout and offered,

" Just a little nip of gin and a cuddle in me tent, me ducks !"

No, I reasoned, we couldn't have a repeat performance of that. Mrs Worthington-Smythe gurned at me as I gathered up the cheap, garish outfit and the paste jewels,

" Oh, thank you, my dear. And it will be a little 'starring role' for you, at last !"

Grrrrr ! I could cheerfully have slapped her, but no, I was thinking of something else.

Back at home I dumped the clothes on the kitchen table and ran upstairs to my Grandmother's room. Everything was just as it had been when she was alive. Although the cottage now belonged to me, her presence still filled every space, but especially here, in her special sanctuary. I pulled open the heavy drawer in the base of her huge, oak wardrobe and carefully lifted out a long, slightly battered cardboard box. I lifted the lid and gently peeled back the yellowing tissue and there it lay. A beautiful, authentic Romani costume.

It was when I had come to stay, eighteen months ago, to look after my ailing Grandmother, that I had learned of her past and of my heritage. She told me all about her youth. Her travels with the other members of the Romani family. She taught me of our ancestor's origins, thousands of years ago in Rajasthan. Of beautifully carved and painted, horse-drawn caravans. Of the traditions and legends and the 'old ways'. Of the trek across the Continents, throughout the centuries and of her branch of the family's eventual arrival in Britain.

Slipping out of my modern clothes, I reverently donned the beautiful garments. The fine embroidery shone in purples and golds, as vibrant as the day it was stitched, many years ago. I slowly twirled, in front of the full-length mirror and marvelled as the crystals sparkled in the folds of the skirt and tiny coins tinkled around the hem. The jewelled head-dress and beaded necklaces completed the picture and I smiled at my reflection as I felt a strange new feeling, a magical aura. This was my true heritage.

The day of the Fete dawned, bright and clear and by 10am it was already hot and sultry. I was doing a brisk business, as villager after villager crossed my palm with silver and hunched over the crystal ball, as I gazed into their 'future'. I was just about to take a well-earned break and find some cool refreshment, when the beaded curtain, that hung at the entrance to the tent, was noisily flung back and into the tent flounced Jocasta. I knew she wouldn't be able to resist a gloat. I settled back into my seat and indicated for her to take her place. She was full of herself, as usual.

" Cor, Rosie ! That outfit is lush !" she exclaimed, " If I had known it was so gorge and flattering, I would have had a bash at this, myself ! Go on then, do my fortune, Rosie !"

I took the plump, well manicured hand and studied her palm, carefully. Then, I closed my eyes and smiled as I placed her hand back onto the paisley-patterned cloth that covered the ricketty card table. Then I gazed into the crystal ball that sat in the centre of the table.

" Oh, oh, my goodness, oh! Jocasta, I must tell you .... next week .... the play .... you will be covered in ...."

" Glory, I will be covered in glory !" she cried, before I could finish. " Yes, yes ! I can picture it. I will be a triumph in the play. There will be shouts and roars of approval and applause and curtain calls and flowers ! I will be a star ! Mummy has arranged it all !But don't say a word, it's a huge secret Oh, thanks, Rosie"

And, with that, she swept out of the tent.

Well, Jocasta was, indeed, covered, but not in glory. Oh, no, she was covered in the bright red, itchy spots, of some mysterious illness that suddenly manifested itself during the week. Neither her expensive, private Doctor, nor the exclusive clinic, could find the cause. It wasn't measles, it wasn't rubella, it wasn't chicken-pox and it certainly wasn't attractive. It lasted two whole weeks, ensuring that there was no way Jocasta could play Titania; not with a face like a well-smacked bottom ! Thank heavens there was a word-perfect understudy to take over and captivate the audience, not to mention the 'surprise' guest..... a talent-scout from the Royal Shakespeare Company ! ______________________________________________________________________________________________ Yes, that piece of nonsense is my entry for Matt's Countdown Word Challenge. You can find all the details you need on his blog at

This week the words to be included are;


This was first published on

No comments:

Post a Comment