Thursday, 27 October 2011


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.


  1. I feel as if I know your town now. I enjoyed this so much...

    But I have this odd craving for cake now.

  2. Friko, I swear I was sitting and milling about right there with you. You sure do bring the telling of an event to life.

  3. Friko, you make your village come alive just as Miss Read and others of your ilk have done. How I wished the tale were longer.

  4. Good initiative, congratulations.


  5. You've captured the atmosphere of such events beautifully. I loved the section with the intertwining conversations, I've been caught in the cross-fire of such exchanges occasionally. And well done for raising the money.

  6. Hello:
    Village life, how keenly you have captured its essence in this post. Talking without listening, friendship without friends, and as much cake and sandwich to sink the Titanic. How well we remember all of this. You are, dear Friko such a perceptive observer of Life and such a talented painter with words. How we have enjoyed it all.

    And now we choose to be foreigners in a city which speaks in a different tongue.

  7. Sounds like an excellent Charitea!And a damned good idea too, much more sensible that trestle tables full of unwanted things, where interest wanes and peole are keen to leave.

    And Amnesty benefited!

    Anna :o]

  8. I thought that I had enough cake today already, but no, you've convinced me that I need one more slice to have enough energy reserves to go shopping. HAH! I just now noticed the captcha word for today is definitely hinting at more cake with this word: 'dessest' - just one letter away from dessert, its a sign, and I don't believe in signs, but I'll eat anyway.

  9. All-in-all, pretty much exactly like fundraisers the world over. I have attended many of them. That's because fundraising for non-profits is what I do. What I haven't figured out is fundraising for me.

  10. I'm afraid, i am so shy, I would head for the food tent and forget to speak to anyone. David in contrast would forget the food and speak to everyone.

    I understand the Conservative Government has taken on the National Trust over housing, i.e. they want to build where none have built before. Dianne

  11. ha had me right there among your town...and it was a pleasure to meet many of them...good on you for raising the cash as well...

  12. What an interesting collection of people at the fundraiser.

  13. I really enjoyed joining you for tea and cakes. Social gatherings such as the one you beautifully described can be so difficult to get right.
    I'm often left longing for a deeper connection, and embarrassed by my gluttony.

    I'd have undoubtedly skipped the political chat!

  14. I love these kinds of events - the tea, the cake stall, the second-hand book stalls. A great way to spend a day. Even in the rain, as you say.

  15. I enjoyed my afternoon tea, thanks. Just my thing! Lots of lovely food and pleasant chat. I dislike those fundraisers where one is expected to buy something one doesn't need or want, just to make a contribution. This is a much nicer way of doing it. And, as always, you paint the scene so well!

  16. Love how you've described the 'happenings' and 'conversations' circling around this fund-raiser. And - congratulations on the success!!!

  17. I loved having a glimpse into your world. You captured it all so well.

    Unlike the retired professor, Friko,if you wrote a novel, you'd have no problem finding an agent, a publisher, or readers.

  18. This is a stunning piece of work. I must go back and re-read it more carefully. It so perfectly put together. One of those universal scenes that due to the skill of the writer can fit so many places around the world!

  19. Friko, you have a wonderful gift for taking the reader right along with you. I feel I've been to this fundraiser and it was lovely meeting everyone and, oh, the food!

  20. I kept expecting someone to get murdered. Too terribly Miss Marple, Friko, just wonderful. I was sure one of the political conversationalists would fall into the cream on her scone with an apparent heart attack, but no.
    Simultaneously, I was remembering my maternal grandmother at church fundraisers in my childhood. They always involved food as well as the ignoble white-elephant tables. I wonder how she'd feel about Amnesty International, which is one of my husband's favourite charities.
    Much food for thought here, and my mind was already in England this afternoon. My best friend and her husband are now installed in their narrowboat on a canal with their cats and a selection of their goods and chattels, plus wireless internet, so we had a lovely chat.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  21. FRiko, I love this! Someone mentioned Miss Read, and that's very much how I remember her books. I felt like I was there, in the middle of it all.

    You are so descriptive, without being "wordy". Thanks for the stroll, and the cake and tea!

  22. I feel I know them all! Smaller communities have much in common, although mine is rather more casual, informal. But the same sorts of talk and activities, as if the roots go deep and cross the waters. Thank you!

  23. Reminds me of my own wee village, but yours sounds a tad more sophisticated, here talks run to fishin' and huntin' and boats and quiltin'.
    And oh, yeah, 'shrimpin' pools'.

  24. Such a well-drawn character study of your Valley. A wise eye, a bit proud too - and with reason enough!

    English Aloha!

  25. By now you have a book's worth of these "village life" posts, and what a fine book it would be. I loved this observation especially: "that's how Valley's End functions: people look out for each other, whether you want them to or not."

  26. Friko, I was immersed in this post. From the sticker destined to fall, to the newly-widowed Pauline to the dry academic self-published novelist whose greater talents lie with children's verse.

    A very nice jaunt into your world, indeed.

  27. That was very, very good. It reminded me of my favorite Barbara Pym - I wanted more.

  28. Smiling over the cross-cultural cake (German, made by an American, in UK). Inge remembers with a cringe Sundays in Germany at exactly four o'clock when all the plates and forks are tinkling through all the windows at cake time. She finds this representative of a certain German rigidity, apparently.

    I've explained my observation of the poetess's teeth at my post, if you're interested. Let's see if it makes anyone else uncomfortable.

  29. Hi Friko - great exposition of tea-fundraiser within a village .. I can see it all - loved your descriptions .. and glad the Ramblers arrived and enjoyed their afternoon treats.

    Cheers - Hilary

  30. This was a lot of fun to read and imagine myself there with you. Your description took me through the entire fundraiser. I enjoyed it.

  31. The Charitea sounds a wonderful idea and much more fun than a Bring and Buy or *shudder* a Jumble Sale.

  32. Personally, I detest these sorts of things. However, this is my favorite post of your's since I've begun reading your blog Friko.

    You just took us along with you to the event and I felt as if I had been there with you. Even though I may not care for these sorts of functions, it was fun watching it and learning more of you and the good folk of Valley's End.

  33. thank you, Retired English Teacher, for expressing wellk what i was wanting to say.

  34. Oh, I would gladly attend the fundraiser if I could. Properly pay my fee and worry about my sticky badge falling off. Sit somewhere with my back to the wall, too shy to start a conversation, but happy to join in if one starts near me. Taste a little of everything and then go back for my favourites. Surreptitiously check my teeth for food bits. Try to join in the gossip without knowing the full story... and go home full, feeling like I'd done my bit for AI.
    You've made it so real for me.

  35. Not crazy about such events, but you have the most wonderful way of capturing conversations at get-togethers such as this, that you almost make it sound palatable. A great post.

  36. What a nice, colourful description of a country event. It must have been such a lot of work to get all that food together though - it would really worry me if I was organising it, in case I had the wrong amount and it all went wrong!

  37. Wow! You have more courage than I to brave this social minefield!! But ... a good cause was had by all??!!

  38. If i could just hop onto a plane and travel to where you are... your words bring it to life in my mind with colors and beautiful images. Thank you

  39. You have a gift for taking us right to the centre of something. I can see, smell, taste and hear ..... It sounds a lovely place to settle.

  40. Thankyou, I was able to be the fly on the wall. Quite the best part to play on such an afternoon !
    But I feel I should sent some money to Amnesty ...

  41. You are so good at writing and showing different characters. I would love to go to one of these – have never been to one – sounds so original.


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