The Great British Summer is officially here. Thousands marked the summer solstice by watching the sun rise at Stonehenge, but I took my cue from a more traditional kick-off to the summer calendar: Royal Ascot. While I did not attend this year, I did catch a glimpse on television and was struck by just how anachronous the whole spectacle appeared. A BBC commentator was interviewing the aged couple who owned the horse that had just won a race. He was stiff in his stove top hat and blunt cut morning coat, showing no hint of pleasure at his victory. She was excessively coordinated: shoes, bag, dress, jacket, and lampshade hat all in shades of black and white. Both were completely lacking in the sartorial ease that characterizes our fashionable neighbors across the channel. I daresay the addiction to matching coordinates exhibited by m’lady would be enough to make mademoiselle strangle herself with her Hermès scarf or gouge her eyes out with her Chanel ballerina flats.
Still I am smitten with all forms of British tradition, and yesterday we attended a more casual yet equally important event in the summer social calendar: the first fête of the season. We cycled over to Chedworth where the weather behaved as expected—wind, drizzle, sun, and clouds in alternating cycles of approximately fifteen minutes each—while the whole village defiantly carried on with the requisite fête activities of jumble sale, Tombola, barbecue, dog show, and chuck-the-wellie competition, with tea and cakes served in the village hall. There will be one of these every weekend day in a village somewhere in the Cotswolds from now until the end of August, including our own Charter Fair next Saturday. We are, somewhat distressingly for my romantic fantasy of my quaint rural life, a town rather than a village, owing to a charter granted by King Henry III in 1227 giving us rights to hold both a weekly market and an annual fair. Thus we have a fair rather than a fête.
As such, we have to make a bit more of an effort. Rustic amusements such as chuck-the-wellie would just seem out of place amongst the grandeur of a climbing wall and vintage chair-o-plane rides and, gasp, a fire engine. (The fire engine appears twice on the official programme of events. First, we pause for its entrance, then the band plays a bit more, and then, we have a designated time slot to admire it.) Faced with such excitement the wine bar has chosen to shut its doors for the day. The memories of last year’s deluge of punters asking to use their facilities and the unseemly smells wafting in from the cricket team’s barbecue stand were just too much.
Personally, I think they’re overreacting. It reminds me of the response of Notting Hill’s posher residents to that other great British summer event, the Notting Hill Carnival. Many West London home owners board up their stucco terraces and flee the city while the rest of London floods in for three days of food, floats, and Red Stripe induced fights. More than a few of these Notting Hill refugees will be heading for the retreat of their weekend homes in the Cotswolds where they may happen upon the quaint charms of a local fête. Should they arrive at our Charter Fair next weekend they will no doubt be disappointed to find such charms are not to be enjoyed over a glass of rosé .