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Sunday, 27 June 2010

Are you going to Wimbledon Fair?

Coincidentally, last weekend two fairs were held in the neighbourhood. As a spinster of this parish, I thought it fitting to first make my way to the fair held on ancient glebe land attached to the church. It was a modest affair and sadly most of the plants (the sole reason why I attended) had been sold before I arrived. Nevertheless, I still managed to come away with small pots of comfrey, oregano and tarragon. Since there was nothing else that caught my fancy I took the opportunity to wander about the adjacent churchyard in search of the 17th century table tomb belonging to one William Rutlish “imbroiderer to King Charles II”. Strangely its exact location had always proved elusive to me on previous visits. It is quite unusual to find a tomb dating from the 17th century still extant in the graveyard of an English town.  William Rutlish had left generous legacies to the poor of the parish, one of which had led to the founding of a boy’s grammar school. The trustees of said school arranged for their founder’s tomb to be restored in the 1970s and a facsimile of the inscription placed by it.

The streets around the church still retain a distinctly rural air despite being sited within a London suburb. Only the occasional car drives past and there are still reminders of its past as the centre of a thriving agricultural landscape from a century or so ago: elegant iron gates and a high brick wall enclose what was once an imposing country house; the Georgian rectory could be the setting for a Jane Austen novel; the boundary of one road is not marked by pavement but by tall hedgerows; Yet it is the part of Wimbledon close by the Common which is referred to rather archly as “the village”, despite resembling a bustling county town with its crowds of visitors and constant traffic.

By contrast to the fair held in the glebe field, the one on the Common was on a far grander scale. To my delight I found that a number of stalls were selling mature plants from nurseries at very reasonable prices, allowing me to stock up on yet more herbs, vegetables and flowers for the garden. Consequently I ended up carting away sorrel, French tarragon, poppies, marrow, pumpkin and butternut squash. I already plant a variety of flowers to appeal to bees. To further help stem the calamitous decline in their numbers I bought a jar of locally produced honey. A number of stalls supported various charities including several relating to retired greyhounds. If Ellie were still alive I might well have bought her a new leash if only to replace the one I managed to lose when I looked after last summer. Thank Heavens she was such an obedient dog as we had to walk along the final tranche of the route back to her house with my hand holding on to her collar. There was a striped greyhound by one of the stalls, the spitting image of Ellie, other than for the fact that he was unmistakably male. I was intrigued to see his whole body quiver when he became transfixed by a particular scent. It was something I had observed Ellie doing on numerous occasions and I had previously assumed it was a trait peculiar to her: clearly not.

Up on a temporary stage erected by The New Wimbledon Theatre, a couple of Thai dancers performed a traditional dance which was well received. It reminded me of a similar performance I had seen in Bangkok. On that occasion a meal had been set out before me as I watched the dancers. The Thai people I met seemed an exceedingly polite race and it took me a while to realise that they were asking in a very deferential and embarrassed manner if they could see my ticket. I had only decided to venture out at the last moment and part of the price of the ticket included a ride in a tuk-tuk, an auto-rickshaw, to the venue. The journey was so horrendous that I could not remember whether I had even been handed a ticket back at the hotel. Fortunately after rummaging around for a while I able to retrieve the ticket from the depths of my handbag and honour was restored. Whilst in Bangkok I also saw traditional dancing in a theatre. One woman sat on her own at the very front.
“Is she the choreographer?” I asked the American seated next to me.
“No she’s a princess,” he replied.

Royal protocol is still strictly observed in Thailand. I remember visiting one of the royal pleasure palaces and being told the tragic and cautionary tale of the death of a royal princess in the 19th century. It seems a party of women from the royal household were sailing on one of the lakes by the palace when their boat capsized. One of the princesses was trapped beneath the upturned vessel. Another tried in vain to rescue her. Death by drowning was the outcome. Yet the boat was close to shore. Moreover there were people standing on the river bank who, theoretically could have dived in to help. But it was literally more than their life was worth to even attempt to do so. For a mere mortal to touch the royal personage was then a capital offence. So they were forced to stand by and watched the royal party flounder in the water.

I left the fair when it started to rain. At the edge of the Common I saw a couple of shire horses pulling a brewery dray filled with visitors. I scarcely had time to whip out my camera before they had disappeared around the corner. I often used to toy with the idea of taking riding lessons at the local stables. Nowadays, I am of an age and disposition that rather than perch atop a horse, I would be more inclined to fantasize about following such equines at a discreet distance, armed only with a bucket and spade. Their manure would do wonders for my garden.

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