|I don't agree that love is a human right but that would make a different post.|
An afternoon fundraiser without a White Elephant stall!
In fact, there are no stalls visible of any kind. I'm relieved; I have felt pressured into buying unwanted presents, off-loaded by ungrateful recipients, too many times in the past to feel guilty at spurning them; rather than buying somebody's unloved cast-offs, with the sole purpose of returning them to an identical stall at the next opportunity, I now just put a few coins in the box.
A young girl in a pretty dress, which is rather too old for her, takes my entrance fee and, in return, eagerly sticks a label to my jacket to prove that I've paid. The label is destined to fall off almost instantly.
The entrance fee entitles me to eat and drink as much as I want. No further monetary transactions are due.
For the sake of formality, an adult stands next to her at the rickety table which holds a tin for the money and a small packet of sticky backed labels. The child is bossy and self-important, giving me unnecessary directions to the back of the house; few people have arrived as yet and she hasn't had time to grow bored.
There are tables set out in the sheltered courtyard, the forecast has promised a dry afternoon. It is part of the fun to huddle close together under umbrellas in the rain, and, if the weather should turn too inclement, for everybody to grab chairs and tables, teacups and plates and rush them indoors. We hope for the best, but kitchen and barn doors are open.
I arrive fairly early; not many tables have been taken and, for the moment, there are more helpers than there are guests.
This being Valley's End, everybody knows everybody. Introductions may be ignored but conventions must be observed.
'Would you like some tea? Food is in the barn. Choose a table and I'll bring the tea out to you.'
I make my way into the barn; sitting down instantly would make me look stiff and unfriendly. I need to greet everybody first, both in the barn and the kitchen and everybody sitting in the courtyard. Going into the barn first makes me look greedy.
'Hi, lovely to see you. Thank you for coming. We have lots of food, far too much, really.'
The lady in charge apologises for the great abundance, it's the organisers' fault and she may well be one of them. Waste is bad, we are an old-fashioned lot, we all complain about young people nowadays throwing far too much food away.
'It probably won't get eaten.' She explains that 'The ramblers are out for a walk, they may get here too late and there's a bowling match on as well. Bad planning, as usual. There's always too much on at the same time, isn't there? I wish people would look at the village diary before they double-book.' Yes, we have a village diary, printed on the back page of the 'Chronicle', available for a very modest sum once a month.
The lady by the food table is slightly breathless and excited. She waves a hand over the table and points: Anyway, we have egg & cress, cheese & pickle, ham & tomato and salmon & cucumber; we have scones & jam, chocolate brownies and we have fruit cake and sponge. And this massive cake here, well, Linda made it. We told her it's much too big but you know about Americans. They only know one size: big! Linda is present, she hears the remark, and seeing me, she laughs and says 'Well, it's a German recipe, it's a Guglhupf, you can't blame me.'
Everything on the platters and cake stands looks inviting. I help myself to a small plate and pile some sandwich triangles on it. The tea lady finds me and tells me that she has put my tea on a table. While I stand chatting to the food lady another lady grabs hold of my arm and whispers urgently:
'Pauline has just arrived, she's on her own; would you mind speaking to her and sit with her?'
Of course, I wouldn't; Pauline is a good friend, recently widowed, but totally able to take care of herself. She has no need of me or anyone else, but that's how Valley's End functions: people look out for each other, whether you want them to or not. Soon Pauline and I are joined by several other people.
Are you exhibiting any paintings this year?
Well, of course, it always rains in the Orkneys; we've never yet had good weather.
Actually, I'm really busy at the moment; I'm going to stay with my daughter in Birmingham for a few days, before I'm off on my cruise.
I have several new paintings ready; the exhibition is previewing on Saturday; are you coming? there'll be wine and nibbles.
Oh, I know, the Shetlands are no better. But still, I love the North; never mind the weather. You can't go to Scotland in the summer, the midges . . .
Have you been away this year?
Abstracts or landscapes?
They eat you alive.
Did I tell you I saw Jayne the other day? She's finally made up her mind about the new cottage.
One after the other, people get up for more food and tea cups are refilled. People change tables.
'I've just finished my fourth novel.'
This is a one-to-one conversation. My partner is an old gentleman, an ex music and English teacher, who has published a number of text books on poetry and music, but has so far been unable to find a publisher for his novels. I have read the first one, it was rather stiff and learned and showed how thoroughly the writer had done his research. A lifeless read; I have not read the subsequent works. He has, however, written a delightful little collection of children's verse, which I enjoyed very much.
'No, you can't even get an agent nowadays.' He has published his first two novels himself and will no doubt do the same with the next two and any others he writes. I find it difficult to say anything constructive. He has written some very decent poems for adults too, which a composer has set to music.
Moving on, I join a larger table, where a discussion on politics is in full flow. Country people are conservative by nature, their politics tend to lean towards the Right. A lot of the newer inhabitants are professionals from the big cities, as well as writers, artists, teachers, with more liberal tendencies. In spite of these differences, everyone here is united in their wish to see the downfall of the Murdoch clan and News Corp. It's safe territory. When the talk turns to Mr. Cameron, whose current posturing in the face of the financial crisis hitting the pockets of ordinary people makes me feel nauseous, the differences become more obvious.
We have to live with each other, for the most part we are on friendly terms with each other and agree to disagree. Besides, we've only had tea, alcohol-fuelled pub rants have no place at the tea-table.
In the meantime, the ramblers have arrived, hungry and in need of refreshment. There is also a group of people whom nobody knows, a group of cyclists, male and female, who saw the sign advertising afternoon tea and followed it to the back of the house. The organiser beams a welcome smile.
It's getting cool and people are beginning to leave. The food lady comes over, bearing a large platter of left-over food, a few sandwich triangles, slices of fruit cake and brownies. Linda's big cake has all been eaten. Anybody who still has a corner to fill in their tummy, takes a piece; there is no embarrassment, that's what we do.
The fundraiser has been a success. Amnesty International will be given a decent sum of money.
Valley's End is rather good at fundraising, we do a lot of it.