Posted by: Sam Olsen | October 27, 2012

Tempting fete

Britain with a twist: our morning activity today.

Set in the cosy grounds of Central’s Anglican cathedral, all the elements of a typical English church fete were there. A couple of dozen stalls manned by women of a certain age; a heady collection of second-hand books, cakes and bric-a-brac; a cacophony of scouts patrolling through the crowds on their best behaviour.

That is where the similarities end.

The six or seven church secondary schools had provided a joint orchestra that was actually rather good. Military style lorries had previously unloaded the heavy instruments as the woodwind and brass sections tuned up, before all sat down and produced harmonies that would be hard pressed to be found in a British combined orchestra (as a veteran of one, I speak with rather rusty experience).

The cakes, biscuits and Christmas puddings on sale were no product of the local WI. Instead one of the congregation, a scion of the proprietary family of the Bank of East Asia, had engaged her five domestic helpers in making baked delights for the previous month. We look forward to testing the results later.

The main difference though was the sheer scale of it. The hall containing the handbag, luggage and jewelry stalls had a queue of thirty outside fifteen minutes before its 10am opening. I had been asked to act as security for the hall, which I had considered rather superfluous but had agreed to help out for the sake of community spirit. Yet as I saw over a hundred men and women stream into the building within two minutes of the doors being thrown open I realised that this was not the gentle browsing of Chipping Norton or Dunny on the Wold. Amidst the crowd were hawkers from Mainland China – looking for bargains to resale across the border – local street cleaners taking a break to grab an affordable handbag, and Filipina helpers looking to adorn themselves in crystal necklaces. We were instructed to look for wandering hands but the crush annulled much of our effectiveness – there were just too many to scan.

Some punters were easier to spot than others. One tubby Chinese man, with sellotaped glasses and a flourescent green shirt spattered with blood-red spots, walked round and round the stalls dragging a battered maroon suitcase, of a type last seen on an Olsen family holiday circa 1986. An Indian woman in a tatty black sari roamed the floor whispering into a mobile phone and lightly stroking as many of the goods as she could. And a middle-aged Gweilo pushed his way through the throng, coffee from an open paper cup spilling down his black shirt, as he chased his white retriever that had come lose and  was threading through myriad legs.

All in all it was an eye-opening scene: further proof that the church here is a strong and vibrant institution, especially when it coincides with an almost demonic obsession with shopping for cheap deals.


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