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.
To 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 years.
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.
Jane was 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 sport’s 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 cardigan buttons.
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.
Jane 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).
The 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 nose.
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