In the balmy summer days of the 1930s, when summers really were summers, the village Chapel garden fête was an annual event that everyone looked forward to with anticipation.
Families turned up in their Sunday best, the ladies and girls with wide brimmed, floral trimmed hats and the men wearing trilbies or caps and neck ties (in place of the usual neckerchief), the boys in their short trousers, long socks pulled up, polished shoes or boots and wearing caps (or sun hats for the very young).
My early memories of the village fêtes start around the age of five with my mother’s involvement invariably entailing seeking out and hoarding up small items suitable as prizes for the hoopla stall. For some reason there seemed to be a certain amount of rivalry between Mum and her best friend Dorothy (my aunty Dot) who, from memory, ran the bean-bag stall.
There was a certain technical similarity between the two stalls – hoopla had wooden rings that you threw to encircle both the prize and the square card on which it stood on an inclined table top, whereas the beanbag, when thrown, had to pass cleanly through a numbered hole on an inclined board to win a prize.
As a young lad, I had the run of the well-kept walled garden of the farmhouse where the fête was held. The garden had two features that I remember well, one was a grand multi-seated ‘privy’ with graduated holes suited to adults or children and a rustic rose covered summer house which, during the fêtes, invariably housed a man offering to “Read your Bumps”, outside of which was a small table exhibiting a large white china head displaying areas and names of parts of the brain.
I always gave this a wide berth as the man seemed rather scary, but to my horror, when I was probably aged seven or eight, my mother dragged me up to this strange man who told me to sit on his stool within the summer house. Nearly 80 years on, I can still feel the man’s fingers probing my scalp, ruffling my carefully combed hair and muttering. At times his fingers would stop and the pressure increase whilst he emitted a meaningful “hmmmm”, then move on for what seemed an age.
At the end, he straightened up and stood looking thoughtful, dismissed me with a curt “you can get down” and turned to my mother. I hopped off the stool as if it was red hot and I can still picture that brief tableau of her anxious face and the man standing slightly bent forward tapping his chin with the tip of his spectacles, obviously making up his mind how to tell mother that she had reared a worthless tearaway, nurturing bloodthirsty tendencies.
My memory of the rest is somewhat vague ... I stood to listen, but was frightened as to what he would say. I caught the word “headstrong” and took myself off knowing that whatever followed could only be worse.