It happens, it happens to everyone, doesn’t it? You tell a little white lie and it blows out of all proportions, it runs away and starts a life of its own. It gains a wide circle of friends (more than you have yourself) and then the lie grows so gigantic that it sends you a postcard from somewhere. Think I’m exaggerating? Okay, maybe a little. See there I go again, lying. Perhaps in your favour you would have to say that it was done for the best of all reasons – trying to cheer people up.
If Alison hadn’t been ill that day, or at least if she
hadn’t been recovering from a night out in the village, then Jane
wouldn’t have had to take Alison’s place; so, if anyone was to blame it
was Alison and her obvious drink problem. Okay, that’s another lie,
Alison doesn’t have a drink problem. She had only been at the Mount to
taste the wines, and had forgotten to stop. But the result was the same,
Alison was lying in her bed promising the universe that she had drunk
wine for the very, very last time in her life, and that not only was she
going tee-total but she would attend church regularly and help the
people of Africa – if the universe would only stop her blinking head
from hurting as much as it did.
All that was beside the point,
for it meant that Jane was now required to fill her best friend’s shoes.
When she had agreed to help at the Fete meeting all those months ago,
it hadn’t seemed like a possibility, and so Jane was happy to nod her
head when they asked for a deputy for Alison. It made them sound like a
couple of cowboys.
The Shoreham Village Fete was full of all the
usual bits and pieces; music, vintage cars, a bar, a tea room (run by
the children and their mums) and the always present ne’er-do-wells, who
turned up once a year to promenade around the school ground.
save money, in this time of austerity, the Fete committee had decided
to find the big central acts for the day (those who inhabited the centre
ground – literally) within the large and obvious talent of the village
itself. How hard could it be to procure an act of such breath-taking
ability that the village would be talking about it for weeks (or maybe
just on the Monday morning)?
It was Elsa Fairweather who had
opened the bid by telling the committee that she had once been a
ballerina (the truth was that she’d spontaneously broken into dance
during the Christmas play at school when she was acting as third
shepherd – she had got fed up pointing at the Star and decided that
shepherds might dance in times of boredom). She was now twenty-seven
years of age and hadn’t done anything so physical for the last twenty
Elsa was one of those ladies who tended to get up
everyone’s nose – it wasn’t what she did, or said, or in the way she
acted – she just annoyed people. Every village has at least one Elsa –
it is the rule. Elsa wasn’t a bad person, rather she was just someone
who had got off the bus at the wrong stop.
Not to be outdone by
her nemesis, Alison had said that she could tap-dance – when Elsa
remarked that so could she – Alison had upped the stakes by adding that
what she had meant to say, was that she could tap-dance while standing
at the top of a ladder. Elsa took a little time to recoup and then
opened with another bid, by saying that she could stand on her hands at
the top of the ladder while singing the National Anthem.
sure she could hear Alison swearing under her breath – but there wasn’t
enough time to ask her, for, by then, Jane had told the committee that
she could sing all the songs from Oklahoma while tight-rope walking
across the sports' field.
Alison definitely heard Elsa say an
extremely rude word out loud, and one or two of the Fete committee also
heard her. Mr Grove’s face went a very tomato red as he fiddled with his
Elsa’s husband gave his wife one of those
‘here we go again’ looks and nodded to her to go to the back of the
hall. Elsa and her long-suffering husband huddled together in the corner
and it was difficult for Alison to hear what they were saying.
That was when Alison came up with a rather neat plan – every few
seconds, she coughed, and when she did that, she used the noise to cover
the rocking of her chair back a little. Although Alison thought she was
being subtle, she had moved her chair back several feet (after a few
coughs) and was heading towards Elsa – her less-than-subtle plan being
obvious to most of those in the hall.
Never-the-less, the plan
worked and Alison was sure she heard, Derek (Elsa’s husband) say ‘you
cannot be serious, you know you can’t sky-dive’.
After a few
minutes (which just gave Alison enough time to stand up and move her
seat – less subtly - back to where it had originally been) Elsa
reluctantly gave up and said that Alison should sing the songs from the
musical while walking a tight-rope. The head of the committee had asked
if Alison had an understudy, and Alison had grabbed Jane’s arm and
shoved it up in the air. Jane wondered what harm could it possibly do?
So, when Jane got the phone call on the Saturday morning of the Fete –
it was Mrs Bacchus, the stern one who always smelled of mothballs – who
had told Jane that Alison was incapacitated (some old illness she had
caught on a gap-year in India, apparently) and that Jane (as her
understudy) would have to take Alison’s place.
And that is why,
on that sunny morning, Jane was dressed in her mother’s old tutu with a
tartan umbrella for balance, and getting ready to walk a tight-rope
(literally and metaphorically) at the Shoreham Village Fete.
saw two things as she started the death-defying feat – when I say
death-defying, Alison had originally said she would walk the rope at 20
feet above the ground (she had actually said five feet but after much
tutting from Elsa, Alison had ended up agreeing to that neck breaking
height). When Jane (in her tutu) started crying, the committee kept
lowering the rope until it was just two feet high. Still high enough to
twist an ankle, was how Jane had sold it to them.
So, with all
the great and good, and ne’er-do-wells from Shoreham Village watching,
Jane managed to move several feet along the rope while singing a Bay
City Rollers' song (she didn’t actually know too many proper songs - she
had thought of singing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ – until the nerves she
was suffering from had actually given her that very problem).
other thing she saw, whilst standing aloft, was Alison at the back of
the crowd, (in her sunglasses) smiling. She even had the cheek to wave
and stick her thumbs up. To add insult to injury, Alison mouthed the
words ‘good luck’.
Jane was just about to mouth a very rude word back to
her when little Barry Smith twanged the rope she was standing on –
causing her to suddenly fly across the bales of hay and straight into
the bar, ending up with half a packet of Chorizo flavoured crisps up her
There was spontaneous applause from the whole field.
The committee have asked Jane if she can repeat her act next year. Elsa is learning to sky-dive.
(The real Village Fete is on Sunday June 11th, 2017)
bobby stevenson 2017