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Fun, felicity and frolics at the festival

I woke up this morning and thought ‘Do you know what, I really fancy guzzling a huge piece of cake, having an outdoor massage, winning a bottle of ketchup in a tombola, getting high off the fumes from a 1960s Borgward, having a lot of people walk into me, and watching some Morris dancers caper about on a station forecourt ’.

Fortunately for me it was the Surbiton Festival, so these particular whims were happily catered for.

The Surbiton Festival is a God-send. Just being able to amble around in the middle of the road is thrilling in itself, but aside from that, it allows for ordinarily sensible people to become genuinely excited at the Splat the Rat game. As I paused to watch a grown man with a plastic mallet attempt to whack a grey sock filled with lentils that a lady dropped down a piece of piping, there were actual ‘Oooh!’s and ‘Ahh, bad luck!’s from the small crowd that had formed. A guy next to me mumbled through his cigarette ‘That’s tricky, that is, gotta sort your timin’ out just right’. A small boy holding his father’s hand called out ‘Daddy, I’m really good at Splat the Rat’, and his father replied ‘Are you. Brilliant,’ in the voice of a man who’d decided there and then not to fork out for university fees.

The festival certainly drew the crowds, and there’s nothing like a street fair for turning pedestrians into lethal killing machines. Not one person was looking where they were going. Granted, I myself took my eye off the ball at one point, but only to look wildly round for the quickest way to escape the frankly terrifying stilt walkers dancing the Samba outside McDonalds, but apart from that I spent most of my time staring dead ahead of me, which seemed the only way to avoid being run over by careless Surbitonians munching on hot dogs and peering in every directions but in front. One woman was so enthralled by the meditating Falun Dafa followers, it was only when her cheek was pressed into my eyeball that she realised she had walked into me.

I had a further brush with death while I was contemplating the cupcakes at one of the cake stalls; whilst I am aware that some people, including myself, take cakes very seriously and that the prospect of a lemon slice can breed violent behaviour in normally placid human beings, I wasn’t prepared for the brute strength with which I was barged out the way by a tiny old lady who barely came up to my chest, and who proceeded to peer so closely at the carrot cake that her nose left an imprint in the icing. However, I managed to purchase a slice of chocolate cake the size of China, and had a good old munch on it behind the Surbiton Rotary stall before stuffing it in my bag for later.

Despite the initial glorious sunshine eventually yielding to ominous clouds (and a rather bitter northerly wind), everyone was obviously having a very cheery time, particularly the two mischievous-looking Dot Cottons who were doing the rounds of the tombola stalls. ‘Are they still open?’ I heard one say, ‘Because if they are I’ll just have one more go... oh, they are, lovely.’ They gambled their money recklessly away on one stall, before one husked ‘There’s another up there, they’ve got Teacher’s scotch on that one,’ and they scurried away up the high street. I spied them a little later up by the roundabout, where one pointed at the Thai massage stall and said to the other ‘You see that? You can get that sort of thing indoors, as well.’

It was soon after this that I spotted two Morris dancers sneaking into the Coronation Hall. I was, quite naturally I feel, compelled to follow them, and lo and behold, the cavernous inner realms of the Coronation had apparently become Morris Dancer HQ: there they were, clustered at the bar, every corner of the lofty hall filled with the merry jingle of bells, all supping ale and having a good old laugh. The poor locals were a sight to behold. It must’ve been quite a shock for them: there they were, quietly supping their mid-morning pints and reading the papers, minding their own business in the quiet sanctuary, when suddenly a flurry of white, flower-adorned creatures skip in like spring lambs, bells tinkling and rosettes fluttering. A couple of the locals were eyeing the dancers with the mystified fear of preyed-upon rabbits, fingers closed round their pints while this merriment went on around them.

The Morris dancers were obviously having a marvellous time in there, and looked like they were rather too settled considering they had another dance set in under two hours. I admit I did feel a flutter of concern: what if they overdid it? I could imagine the fervent whispers of ‘Graham’ll have to sit this one out, he can’t see,’ or ‘Dave’s doing shots with a bunch of students and told me to p**s off’.

Fortunately, it all went ahead as planned, although some seemed a little reluctant to make it back to the station forecourt: at 1pm, ten minutes before they were due for their last set, I happened to be outside the Victoria as two Morris dancers hurried out of the pub and jingled their way up the high street. Talk about cutting it fine. I half expected to see pilfered pint glasses stashed under their baldrics.

But the dancing went ahead, and despite a narrowly avoided collision between a slightly roaming dancer and the fiddler, there were no signs of intoxication. There seemed to be some kind of West Side Story dance-off taking place, with the Spring Grove Morris men clashing their sticks together for three minutes, and then the Off-Spring Morris men leaping onto the forecourt with their handkerchiefs and strutting their stuff for the next three minutes. Despite the fact that some members clearly enjoyed a pint of ale or six every now and then, there was some very nimble footwork going on, and the overwhelming glee on all their faces was delightful to behold. The final touch to this picture-postcard scene was the two little boys running round the perimeter of the crowd pumping holes in each other with toy machine guns, and my heart swelled with joy. The crowd seemed enthralled by it, too, apart from the young man standing next to me who leant down to his girlfriend and said ‘It’s all very jolly, but it’s still a bit peculiar, isn’t it?’

After three hours of happy mooching, I made my way back down the high street, past the multitude of Surbitonians standing around outside shops stuffing curry and hotdogs into their faces, and I smiled inwardly at the whole of humanity.

It was only when I got home that I realised I’d spent the day wandering round the Surbiton Festival with a huge smear of chocolate cake on my chin.

Comments

Great to see this hilarious report of the dancing at Surbiton Carnival! I just want to point out that Off-Spring Morris is a MIXED side, ie women dancers and musicians too (and we welcome new members - see website). Also that the other side dancing on Saturday was Greensleeves Morris Men (a men-only side) from Wimbledon.

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