Friday 27 April 2007

All the Fun of the Fair

Well, I went. How could I not, with a small army of fairy godmothers frantically jumping up and down in their sensible brogues, insisting that this unlikely Cinderella SHOULD go to the ball?
I have my mongoose moments and miss the city from time to time (though not enough to ever want to go back) but the moment you get off the train at Paddington London just smacks you in the chops. The sheer busyness of everyone. The purposefulness. The sour faces. The irritability. God help you if you don’t know EXACTLY where you’re going and if you don’t go there at a trot (preferably with mobile clamped to ear and finger tapping on blackberry).
I stayed with The Barrister (my eldest and dearest school friend; scary-smart and mega-lovely). She poured me a stiff gin and tossed me a menu.
‘What d’you fancy? Thai? Indian? Italian?’ By heck, I’d forgotten food choices could be so complex, and that a simple phone call could summon delicious, hot (!) food in minutes. Sure enough ten minutes later we were tucking into tapas and downing a couple of bottles of red, talking about toy boys, Internet dating and Miss Matthews, our old headmistress – who always sat on stage for assembly with her portly legs slightly too wide apart so the first-years could see straight up her skirt.

The next morning she (Jane, not Miss Matthews) vanished off to Cambridge, leaving me in dubious control of a Dualit toaster and a serious bank of hi-fi equipment. Eventually, after a few hours of sitting in the sunlight and watching breakfast TV (what a load of old tosh!) I wandered up the Essex Road to the Fair.

Well now, I kind of dread to say this as it sounds horribly ungrateful. But…..I was a bit disappointed. I think I’d built it up to be a sort of super-dooper cross between the Bath & West and the Ludlow Food Festival, with maybe a dollop of the Centre for Alternative Technology – a sprinkling of something green or eco-conscious at any rate. I was bracing myself for withstanding the charms of plump hens and those rather gorgeous Omlets or eggloos or whatever. I’d figured I’d be convinced into parting with good cash for solar panels at the very least, and possibly a couple of wind turbines and a reed bed system to boot. I’d wondered if I might be educated in the best way to worm a sheep. But no, no and no.

There was a chap from some fancy kitchen company, dutifully splitting teeny tiny bits of wood. He looked a bit uncomfortable and nobody really paid him any attention. There was a nice lady pulling flowers into bunches and a depressed-looking basket-weaver but that was it.

I’d bragged to Adrian that this would be a ‘foodie paradise’ and promised him something exotic – rose veal or jugged hare or, at the very least, wild boar sausages. Some wild artisanal cheese and some seriously full-on olives. But the food bit was small and tucked away in a corner – and mainly comprised pretty big boring companies like Yorkshire tea and Brown Brothers wine. Not a hunky dentist in sight, DJ!

Really it’s just a girt big craft fair with a few food stalls tacked on the end. However, on the bright side, I’ve always been partial to a craft fair and this one was blessedly low on really unbearable tat - though a few of the jewellery and clothing stalls skated pretty close to the wind.
For the sake of those who asked….. I bought:

1 x Jan Constantine Union Jack felt cushion (stunningly gorgeous –see pic)
1 x Rooster (Carolyn moonlighting?!) knitting kit (bunting variety)
1 x organic geranium shower gel (mother’s day present – didn’t go for the Boy Band Greatest Hits, bradders!)
1 x candle in lovely ceramic, silver-edged pot (but now it’s home, the smell is very overpowering).
4 x packs of sausages (multi-buy option)
4 x bottles of chilli sauce (ditto, from interesting company with a chilli farm in Northumberland).

What I wanted but didn’t buy:
1 x swinging ‘horse’ made out of plane tyres (c’mon DL, start your own - put that pile to good use!)
1 x real rocking horse (always wanted one; never had one)
1 x cast iron doormat (tooooo heavy to carry)
1 x vivid green silk embroidered coat (don’t want to frighten the livestock)
Entire range of Pure Alchemy aromatherapy (FANTASTIC stuff)
1 x small girl (about five) to dress in cute vintage knits/dresses

Verity (Camilla will be pleased to hear) was supposed to meet me halfway through but had been caught in a partner’s meeting and arrived late in a small furious flurry of black, barely pausing to say hello before launching into a tirade about how she’d spent ages finding a hotel for everyone to stay in for a friend’s wedding and that now the ingrates were moaning that the rooms cost £250 a night.
‘I’m done with them. Let them sort themselves out! If they want to stay in some pokey B&B that’s fine. I can’t be doing with it.’
She then went on about how stressful it was being on the verge of exchange (for her 1.25million townhouse). Bless her, she really doesn’t have a clue how incredibly thoughtless it is to go on like this to someone who a) would have to stay in the pokey B&B and b) spent three months on the verge of exchange only last year. Hey ho.

I think I was feeling a little weak at that moment as I foolishly allowed my hand to be sucked into a stand for some kind of dead sea mud products. Possibly the most bouncy salesman ever plucked at my paw and announced it was, ‘Dry, very dry.’
He sandblasted it with some kind of dermabrasion, then washed it off and showed me the grubby water. Thanks, mate.
Then rubbed in some kind of cream and asked me to imagine how it would feel having that all over my body. Not with you, thank-you.
Have to confess, it did feel nice, that one hand. I thought he’d do the other one but that was left rough and dirty, presumably to ram home the contrast. He then (having got me for a sucker) sat me down and did my eye – yup, just the one – with some kind of anti-wrinkle treatment.
‘Look! Look!’ pushing a mirror at me. ‘See, Barbara…..’ (er, Jane actually), ‘See how you have all wrinkles on that eye, but on the other eye? Wrinkles – pfff! Gone.’
‘Mmm. Wonderful. I’ll think about it.’ Edging towards the escape exit.
But he wasn’t letting me get away that fast. Nabbing a finger, he started polishing it, buffing it, shining it up like a bit of old silver. My nail (just the one) gleamed. Phew, I’d found something I could buy.
‘Yup, I’ll have one of those. How much?’
‘Ah, well, usually it’s forty pounds….’ WHAT??? Betterware flog ‘em for about four quid. ‘But because it’s the show….special offer of £24.99.’ He could see the look of frank disbelief on my face. Up went his finger.
‘Just for you, because you look like my auntie, Barbara. Special price with free oil and cream - £20.’
I fled. And spent the rest of the day convinced that everyone was staring at me with my one normal eye and my one baggy saggy one; my one soft lovely hand and my one grubby calloused one; and my one single gleaming super-shine nail….

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