We opted for the Fletching village fete.  It was spread out across the village cricket green with various stalls.  One section was reserved for the vintage car show.  Then there was the bell-ringing in the church.  That was unique.  My husband and our younger daughter participated in that.  Meanwhile, our older daughter and I visited the art exhibit within the church.  Quite an impressive display, and though she could not afford it, our daughter wanted to buy several paintings.  I must say, it would have been nice to support the local talent.

The atmosphere of the fete was quite subdued, and I wondered if that was the case for all fetes.  As I understand it, the difference between a fete and a fayre is that the fayres usually have competitive games and rides.  Of course, the Rusper fayre did not have rides, but it did have games.  This fete had some children’s games, a bowling pitch, clay pigeon shoot, and air water-bottles, but no participatory competitions.  The fayres concentrated more on fun, whereas the fetes concentrated on sales.  There were various stalls from different charities and organisations, selling books and other items for funds.  Others sold plants and produce, jams, etc.

Of course, the distinctions between fayres and fetes have probably dissolved over the years, with many churches and villages changing the venues.  It’s getting harder to define these traditional British celebrations.  We still have yet to experience the carnivals.  In the US, the word “carnival” is used so loosely to mean a fun-fair, that it will be a new experience.  Of course, we had parades in the US, but it was never followed with a fayre.

Having two bank holidays in May makes this month go by really fast.  I can’t believe it’s half-term already, and the kids had only been in school for 5 weeks this time.  Unfortunately, it will mean that the other half is much longer.  I’m unsure when school actually lets out this year.  If it’s as my husband suspects (July 24th), that will mean 8 weeks after the half-term.  I suspect it may be 1-2 weeks earlier, because they will be doing their Stagecoach performances on July 11th, and the school’s drama club will be presenting theirs the week of July 6th.  Anyhow, having two bank holidays also means that sometimes you can’t get things done in as timely a manner as you’d like, because businesses are closed (i.e., banks, post offices).

On the other hand, it does mean lots of family fun events.  There will be two nearby fetes this Monday and I’d love to see them both, just to get a feel for them.  But, unfortunately, you might not get a very good feel for either if you don’t experience everything – and that takes time.  Ah, decisions, decisions.  It’s too bad that they’re both at the same time and they only last 3-4 hours.   Then, of course, we don’t even know if our daughter has gymnastics practice that day or if they’ll close for the day like last time.  Just as long as they don’t change the time because it is half-term – I wouldn’t want her to miss out on the fun.

When we visited the UK this time last year, we drove around Wiltshire and found a small village holding a Mayday Fayre.  Very “villagy” setting.  It had food, music, a few games and several table-top stalls.  But, having a British husband, I knew we were not getting the full traditional fayre treatment.

So, we hoped to do better this year.  It was with dismay, however, when I found that two places nearby were holding a fayre and neither sounded very traditional or interesting.  The Friday-Ad did not list any others.  So, I turned to the internet.  The problem with that is that many villages would not think to advertise there.  But, I figured, if they didn’t use technology and they wouldn’t even list in the papers, they probably either didn’t have one, or it was not worth listing. I guess I didn’t realise that some of these villages might be so well-known for having a grand fayre that word-of-mouth was adequate.  Since we are not too well-acquainted with anyone in our area, we didn’t hear about any.

Anyhow, I turned to technology.  I know we should plan our weekends way ahead of time, but nothing in our lives ever fall into place with our plans anyway.  So, I was searching for activities on Sunday.  I was quickly frustrated with the Google searches because I could not find anything nearby.  Some great fayres were being held in various counties around England, but none in our area.  A fewer smaller events were taking place in villages in our Sussex, but they were not close and they were for Sunday.  So, we had already missed out.  If the family was willing, I thought we might try one of the fayres in a neighbouring county.

But the kids were having too much fun with cutting the grass.  (Oh, yes, we couldn’t use the sheep, so we bought hedge shears – they were easier to store and a lot cheaper than a lawn mower.  The kids decided that they wanted to cut the grass, so we let them have at it.  Please don’t report us to the authorities for breaching child labour laws.)  They didn’t want to go anywhere because they found some snails and placed them in a jar and were using their cut-up grass to make salads for their new pets.

Monday morning and I turned to Google again.  After several pages of listings, I finally came upon a small village between Horsham and Crawley, called Rusper.  It didn’t sound big, but certainly bigger than the one last year.  Besides, it was a fairly short trip.  The kids were interested, but not overly enthusiastic.  The younger one liked the idea of a teddy bear parachute.

Well, that was the first stop of the day for us.  We arrived two hours into the festivities and looked around to see what was available.  One of the first events we witnessed was the end of the first Panto Horse race.  It was hysterical and they were calling for people to participate.  The older one had a blank expression on her face and was clearly not impressed with anything.  The younger one pressed for the parachute, so we headed over to the church.  There, Pooh Bear made his first parachute jump from St. Magdalene’s, boasting the highest church tower in West Sussex.  Pooh Bear even got a certificate of achievement for his bravery.

Pooh landed in time for us to witness the second Maypole dancing of the day.  A group of young girls expertly twisting and turning the ribbons around the Maypole was a new experience to me and our girls.  Things went very well until the last dance, when the girls had weaved an intricate pattern on the pole, then went out and each returned with an audience member.  Whether it was the number of dancers present or the newcomers having no idea what to do, it was hard to say, but there were a few moments of confusion as they tried to disentangle the ribbons.

We had already missed both Punch and Judy shows – we have yet to see one.  We went back to the little park where stalls were set up for Tombola, Lucky Dip, some kids’ games, and a few table-top sellers.  We missed the Tombola, but they took a turn with Lucky Dip and the younger one went to hook some boats.  We went back and forth to watch some Wellie Throwing, Panto Horse racing, and coconut shying.  Finally, our older one took an interest and tried the coconut shy.  She was unsuccessful but did manage to hit a coconut once.  Daddy had much less luck.

She also wanted to go in on the Panto Horse, but by this time, it was too late.  But she did jump in for the tug-o-war at the end.  There were several battles between the three pubs in the village.  Then there was the kids’ one, followed by women.  Now, the girls were winning their war when a group of older boys jumped in and pulled the boys back.  More boys joined in for the second war and still had a hard win.  Quite unfair when most of the boys looked to be about 10 years and over, while most of the girls looked to be about 10 years and younger.  Oh, well, they had fun.  They’re looking forward to more May Fayres and fetes.  Tonight, we have a circus.

Well, the summer fun-fairs have just started to kick off. This weekend we attended the year’s first fun-fair in the local town of Uckfield, East Sussex. I’ve been told that, normally, fun-fairs and fetes start around Easter, so this was a little early. Compared to the US, where fun-fairs usually start around the Memorial Day weekend (last weekend in May), this is exceptionally early.

(It’s funny that people disparage the British weather, when it actually is milder than many parts of the US where I’ve lived. This explains why fun-fairs and other summertime activities start earlier and end much later than they do in the US. Summer events in the US are usually held between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day (first Monday in September), but here it happens between the middle of March and ends sometime in October.)

There were other differences in the way the fairs are managed. In the US, you will see ride operators going around to manually check that everyone is properly strapped in before they begin the machines. Here, they relied solely on the machine working properly and did a visual inspection to be sure everyone has their straps on. The fair was set up in the park and as usual, litter was all over the place. In the US, they provided extra waste bins, but they filled up so quickly, and no one was emptying them, so litter was everywhere but for a different reason. Here, the only waste bins you’d find were the ones lining the perimeter of the park, and people just can’t be bothered to walk that distance.

The other frustration was that the fair operators did not provide any toilet facilities. They served food and drink but offered nothing for excretion. We were forced to go to the adjoining supermarket (Tesco’s), but for whatever reason, this supermarket decided to close their restrooms every night starting at 7pm. Since it was after 7pm, we then had to walk further to McDonald’s, always a reliable standby for emergency services. As expected, the kids then wanted to eat at the old Mickey-D. It was a bad business plan for the fair operators not to provide any toilets because now they lost out on the food custom.

The kids had a blast.  Ticket prices were very low (6 GBP per person, though we were charged 5 GBP), compared to how much we used to pay in the US ($15).  We realised that as we got older, our stomachs could not handle all the dizzying rides like they used to.

I’ll be seeing how all the other fairs and fetes are run before making any other comparisons. I’m looking forward to it.