So far as I can remember, my first village fête was in Wimpstone, a row of houses in rural Warwickshire which I'm not even convinced was ever really long enough to be called a village, although it probably seemed like the big city when I was five. The River Stour runs along the back of Wimpstone, past the last house and under the main road, and I imagine the fête must have occupied the triangular patch of land framed by road, river, and the garden of whoever lived in that last house. That's how I remember it, although it was nearly half a century ago so I could be wrong. I recall attractions which didn't even do much for me at the age of five, if that's how old I was; and I remember old crap turfed out from attics and cupboards beneath stairs for sale upon tablecloths laid across the grass. I bought a book about Robin Hood, or at least I cadged pennies off my mother and bought a book about Robin Hood. It was an orange hardback, the kind which would once have been wrapped in a garish technicolour cover, and it was illustrated. It seemed like quite a find and left a bigger impression on me than anything else that day, or from any village fete since.
Just once, I would like to have been as excited about a village fête as Randy is about the Camden County Fair in My Name is Earl*.
Hey, everybody! I'm Gus, the Camden County Fair bear, runs the commercial while Randy tries hard to keep from exploding with anticipation. Who's ready for some fun? Enjoy food, fun, prizes, an Osama bin Laden shooting gallery; And this year, get your picture taken inside the actual car from Smokey and the Bandit. It's gonna be bear-tastic!
Subsequent commercials additionally promise that the event will be not only bear-riffic, but fully bear-awesome. I know bear-awesome doesn't make any sense, and yet it sort of makes perfect sense; and one day I'll attend a village fête which will be genuinely bear-awesome. Maybe that day has come.
We're out driving. We don't know where we're going because we're having an adventure; or Bess may have some vague idea seeing as she has the wheel because I never learned to drive, but I suspect she's playing it by ear. It's June and we live in Texas, so needless to say it's fucking hot, somewhere up in the vicinity of 100° Fahrenheit; but our lower humidity makes the heat marginally more bearable than it would be in England, and in any case I don't know what that is in old money, so it's just something we deal with, even if it rules out long rural walks at noon.
As we approach Boerne, we see a sign for the Berges Fest, which isn't a village fête because we don't really have villages in Texas; but it sounds like it might be a county fair, and might therefore be bear-awesome. I guess Berges derives from berg, apparently meaning mountain in German; and Boerne is a culturally German town on the edge of the Texas hill country, which I suppose amounts to more sense than my assumption of this being the Berges County Fair, because there is no Berges County. Boerne is in Kendall County.
We park in a suspiciously empty lot, probably a field which has only just been opened up to handle the overspill from the existing lots. We walk amongst giant trucks and make appalling jokes about what we're going to find, because we don't yet know what we're getting into. Thankfully it isn't a Klan rally or an international swingers' expo. It's a fair, if not strictly speaking a county one. It's food, music, heat, and booze. Fest is probably as good a term as any.
First we have cups of corn, something my wife recalls as having been a treat when she was young, but of course a new one on me. We stand next to the fifteen foot inflatable cob and the guy fills polystyrene cups with bright yellow corn. We get plastic spoons and are invited to mix in our own butter - which is in liquid state at this point - mayonnaise, and paprika. Surprisingly, it's delicious.
We approach a covered marquee with open sides, one of two. There's a stage in the middle and an oompah band, all pigtails and lederhosen. The musicians are arranged upon the stage in a half-circle, three rows of them, all seated, because technically they are an oompah orchestra. Sadly there seem to be more people on stage than in the audience, but happily those on stage are having such a great time that they don't really care; and not once am I reminded of that scene in Cabaret.
Finishing our corn, we investigate the other marquee. Within, we find an array of craft stalls, but they seem to be of the kind we see everywhere selling the sort of stuff which fills the stores of Boerne and New Braunfels - pieces of wood embossed with motivational slogans, and the like. There are also stalls selling car insurance and double glazing.
Who the hell goes to the fair and buys double glazing?
There's an ice cream stand run by a likeable old coot with a moustache of the kind my English relatives probably imagine to be more common in Texas than is actually the case. Bess chooses coconut and I decide that I want the eggnog flavour, so our guy works his way around a succession of nine or ten freezers before locating our requested flavours. The ice cream is home made, frozen onto sticks, and delicious.
Beyond the marquee, we find a rodeo in progress, or at least we guess it's a rodeo because there's a rodeo clown stood in front of an audience. An absent minute passes before we see the cattle in a pen on the far side of the bleachers. There's also a distorted commentary coming through the tannoy, but we can't tell what he's commenting upon because nothing seems to be happening, and the commentary is delivered in that accent which sounds like someone playing with a selection of rubber bands. The rodeo clown is just standing there.
Another minute saunters by, and still nothing has happened so we walk in the direction of cheering and excitement. Here is another, smaller crowd, and they too are watching something narrated by a man with a microphone. We shuffle to the front of the crowd and see dachshund races in progress, a couple of little sausage dogs being petted and steadied at one end of a track with their people waiting at the other - doggy people, one of them a woman wearing a t-shirt upon which is written don't ever let go of your wiener in country and western lettering. Suddenly the dogs are off, tails wagging, some panting as they happily trot off in the vague direction of the finish line. They don't seem to be in particularly competitive spirit, but another minute passes and we have a winner. His name is Michael and his owner scoops him up and lavishes him with kisses.
The dachshund is a popular dog in our part of Texas, second only to the chihuahua; but it's hot, and it's difficult to imagine a full afternoon at the dachshund races; and already my wife has been distracted by a food truck, not because she's hungry, but because she's drawn to novelty. The truck has a name, as though it's just a restaurant on wheels. It's called Schnitzel & Giggles, so my wife takes a photograph and posts it on facebook.
It seems like we've had all the fun there is to be had, so we leave. It's been the kind of occasion which might have seemed more significant if we lived in Boerne, which we don't. It's been a great way to spend thirty minutes, but fell sadly short of bear-awesome.
*: Stole Beer from a Golfer, the seventh episode of the first series, in case anyone was wondering.