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Monday, October 30, 2006

The lure of the bottle stall

It was as English as the sound of wood on willow, the summer fete with its promise of a pony ride, an ice cream and a mystery prize if you were lucky from the bottle stall.

There was a summer fete nearly every week at a local amenity called Harewood House. The fete was usually opened by a minor celebrity. So minor that even I was asked to open a jumble sale when I was a lowly reporter on the South Devon Times.

I always made a beeline for the bottle stall. I couldn't resist this game of chance where you handed over a couple of coins and nearly always won something. Unfortunately, as the bottles were things people gave away, the prize was not always to be coveted. Giz, my mum's face was a picture when I once presented her with a bottle of anchovy essence. Followed by, another time, a bottle of "Cresta" (advertising slogan: It's Frothy Man).

I was also very keen on the books stall. For 5d I bought "Glamour School," which gave beauty tips 50s style, with pictures of celebs like Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor. I remember one tip to this day: "beware the kiss of the sun - it's a fiery one!" and it's a pity I haven't heeded this advice.

I was always too wary to step into Gipsy Acora's caravan. It was plastered with pictures of Acora with various celebrities like Roy Hudd and Dora Bryan. My dad (Stamps) knew Acora - he often went to the local pub and they played dominoes. Stamps was mildly amused that David (Acora) never seemed to be able to predict the outcome.

Several years later I did go to see Acora in his Barbican shop in Plymouth. With his dramatic turn of phrase, he gestured with his hands and told me I would be looking into a coffin as the leaves fell. We waited for autumn but there was no looking into coffins, that year or in fact ever.

The other highlight of the fete was the entertainment, morris men, lurchers or little girls from the Marnic School of Dancing. I was envious because Giz had never let me join the dancing school (too clumsy, she said) and one of my friends, Jane Wigginton, was a leading light. Her decision was probably sound, because I ruined the maypole dance in my school's 1972 pageant, the life of Joshua Reynolds, when I went the wrong way. There was mass disarray and the pattern of the ribbons looked less like a spider's web than the bottom of Giz's sewing basket.

I was always careful to avoid anything home cooked, being very suspicious of pasties or cakes that may have been cooked by scenty old ladies, whose perfume or Velouty powder cream inadvertently transferred itself to the foodstuff.

I've been to a few car boot sales, always looking for the game "I want to bite your finger", but somehow I don't think they'll ever hold the nostalgic pull of the quintessential English summer fete, even if it was held indoors owing to inclement weather.

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