This weekend was the annual parade and fair in the small town where I live. There’s a little bit of history behind this.
Way back in 1440, the Abbot of Chertsey was given permission by Henry VI to hold an annual fair on St Ann’s Day. This provided a good income for the Abbey as it was able to collect tolls for ‘stallage’ ( any ground occupied by a box, basket or barrow) and for ‘pickage’ (the right to make holes in the ground for erection of a tent). At some point during the following century the name was changed from St Ann’s Fair to the Black Cherry Fair as it’s known today, and it carried on for another four hundred years. Sadly after such a long history the fair petered out during the first half of the 20th century, but was eventually revived in 1975 by the Chertsey Chamber of Commerce who saw it as a good opportunity to promote local businesses.
Originally the fair took place on St Ann’s Hill which overlooks the town, but these days it’s in the centre of town on Abbey Fields, the site of the old Abbey. There’s the usual mix of fast food and fairground rides; hot dogs and candy floss, the waltzer and chair swings – best not experienced in that order. A number of local companies run stalls and try to promote themselves with giveaways and raffles. Of course, being me, I always overthink why I’m approached by particular stallholders. Was a flyer for the local gym thrust into my hand because I look like the sort of guy who goes to a gym? Or do I look like someone who desperately needs to? What is it about me that caused the local undertakers to think someone in my family might be needing their services in the near future? On the plus side, I had a chat with a very attractive woman around my age who tried to convince me to join the local wing of one of the main political parties. Rather than tell her that I voted for the other guy, I listened patiently and considerately to her gentle encouragement, and walked away with her contact details saying I’d give it some serious thought. I’d like to think this was an attempt on my part to foster some much needed political unity and understanding in these troubled times, but in all honesty it’s because I’m so mind-numbingly shallow.
I suspect that not much has changed since the fair restarted in the 70’s. There’s still the Glamorous Granny and Bonny Baby competitions that seem like a throwback to an earlier, more innocent age. But in the five years I’ve lived here I’ve also seen some newer traditions start to gain ground. The much-anticipated ‘HE’S NOT WORTH IT DAVE!’ event has now become an annual fixture, where local youths fight outside Simpsons Chicken over some perceived slight, whilst their girlfriends try to drag them away. And becoming ever more popular each year is the Alcopop Challenge, where teenagers compete to be the first person requiring medical attention after drinking two Peach Bacardi Breezers.
On Sunday I went to Parliament Square to pay my respects to murdered MP Jo Cox. I also took part in the (successful) world record attempt for the longest kissing chain. Across Europe, people lined up to kiss each other in a show of love and solidarity to urge people to remain in the European Union. Now that’s my sort of demo, although I feel that both the man and the woman either side of me are now thoroughly traumatised.
For many people on both sides, this week’s referendum has morphed in to something more than just staying in or leaving the European Union. It’s become about the type of society we want to live in, and how we want to shape our country moving forward. Do we want to be part of a progressive and tolerant society? Or do we want to be dragged back to 1970? I grew up in the 1970s; I sure as hell don’t want to go back there.
Even if Britain does vote to leave the EU this week, those in the ‘political correctness gone mad’ camp are going to be disappointed when they wake up on Friday morning. As they struggle with their post-celebration hangovers, the strains of Yakety Sax still ringing in their ears, a feeling of anti-climax will slowly dawn upon them.
Miraculously, Jeremy Clarkson won’t have been ordained and Katie Hopkins won’t be Prime Minister. There won’t be back to back re-runs of Love Thy Neighbour and The Black and White Minstrel Show on TV. Climate change won’t be revealed as a global conspiracy by the Illuminati to sell more umbrellas and sun tan lotion. All workplaces won’t be allocated a solitary black man called Chalky with a comedy Caribbean accent, and compulsory passive smoking will not be reintroduced in to pubs. Women won’t suddenly realise that yes, actually, they do rather like having their bottoms pinched after all. And speed cameras and traffic cops won’t be abolished so that the police can concentrate on issues more important than the hundreds of children that are killed or maimed by cars every year.
We live in troubled times. We need to be making the world a smaller place and bringing people closer together, not prising countries and peoples apart, hunkering down and building a wall. Britain and the EU may well need marriage guidance, but that’s infinitely preferable to storming out and instigating a bitter and acrimonious divorce.
Sunday 23 June 2016, Parliament Square, London Nikon F90X / Kodak Tmax 400