Sunday, 23 November 2008

In which I learn a valuable lesson from Neville Southall

Here is a job I would like on a permanent basis: professional fete stallholder.

This is not the kind of full-time job to fund a wardrobe of couture clothes or serious gambling habit or growing collection of fabergĂ© eggs. It is a job to have as a kind of absorbing hobby, while your investment banker husband works every hour and never sees his children awake, and your au pair makes the organic packed lunches. 

At the moment, what with having to pay my own mortgage, I am only on occasional work experience in the feting profession. After flirting with car-booting, I fell in love with the world of the stallholder in the summertime, helping out my godmother at a community fete in central London, close to several hospitals. Almost all the classic elements were there – ballet display by local youth group, adult-education belly-dancers, stalls selling Reader's Digest Cookery Books and unloved ornaments, and an ageing rock band called Bloodless Coup. All that was missing was a member of the clergy and a guess the weight of the cake competition. To quote Craig Revel-Horwood, I LOVED it.

I am lucky, in many respects, that I work with people who are mostly my own age. In any office situation I go into, it is very unlikely there will be anyone there more than 8 years younger or older than me. By laws of proportion which I have just made up, but which I believe to be basically sound, I will get on with 80% of them, have plenty in common with 60% and could conceivably become properly great, lasting friends with 40%. 

It's an absolute boon for one's social life, of course, but you do forget what it's like to talk to people who are not wearing patent shoe-boots or Converse. But throw yourself into the fete milieu and there you are behind the ramparts of your trestle, one hand on your float, the other gripping a polystyrene cup of grey tea, with the world growing bigger and wider before your very eyes. You're selling jam to chalky-faced old ladies in too-bright lipstick, and discussing cake with father-and-son duos, any one of whom is pushing the other in a wheelchair. It is highly unlikely that any of these people have heard of Agyness Deyn, and you love them all the more for it. Their mere proximity is surprisingly exciting and you find yourself thrilling! to a hitherto unknown sense of community and embracing! the rich diversity of the human race.

Anyway, yesterday I was mostly embracing the rich diversity of middle-class three-wheeled-buggy-pushers in East Dulwich, helping my friend Miss L sell her excellent cards and Christmas decorations from a stall on the main street on the coldest day of the year, for six hours. I spent more consecutive minutes wearing a woolly hat than I ever have in my life before, I believe. And the cruel machinations of time taught me a lesson, which is that my hat is really, really itchy. At frequent intervals, I found myself rubbing it violently across my forehead and down my  cheeks in a manic attempt to relieve the irritation, like a dog gradually rubbing away its own fur. As a result, by about 10 o'clock last night, I had an angry red rash right across the top half of my face, thrown into even more dramatic relief by the regular pallor of the bottom half of my face. In a desperate attempt at remedial action, I went to bed last night with my face covered in a thick white layer of E45 cream, like someone answering the door unexpectedly to their love interest in a romantic comedy. Incredibly, no love interest at all rang my doorbell last night. I'm not sure what this means. Probably it means my doorbell is broken.

What does this mean for my future in feting? It means that I will apply a thick layer of Vaseline all over my face before putting on my hat, like Neville Southall slathering his eyebrows with it before taking to his goal. You never saw his forehead smarting scarletly.

Luckily, things had calmed down immeasurably redface-wise by the time I got the bus to Crystal Palace for lunch with my friend, Nurse W, today. On the way, the bus drove past a grass verge where I saw a grey squirrel in curiously close proximity to a magpie. Ten metres further on, I saw exactly the same scenario once again – squirrel, magpie, proximity. It was like I had stumbled across some kind of animal-kingdom partner-swapping party. It made me feel a bit weird.

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