The MetOffice lies. Damn them. The last time I had looked Saturday dsiplayed cheerful little suns all through the day. That’s not how it turned out. To be fair, on the day the MetOff did fess up that there was going to be some fairly heavy rain approximately when we were scheduled to set up.
The lead up to this, our third street party, had involved a few desultory beer soaked chats at the Psalter over the last six months, organised by Laura and Aine. As ever little actually appeared to be happening until quite recently, other than Lydia producing yet another glorious poster. Laura is the centre of the organisation for two reasons, other than her relentless drive and enthusiasm. One is that she has access to four capacious if fragile gazebos, the other is that she has the patience to deal with the council; getting the road closure notice, the requisite insurance and the performing rights licence. This year Aine has abandoned the road to move into her very own house but happily she came back for the meetings, the set up and to bring her own quite terrifying enthusiasm to the event.
Saturday morning dawned, sunny but breezy. It looked good. I’d bought my ingredients at Waitrose on Friday so didn’t feel I had to dash around in my usual disorganised manner, until I measured my cake tins. Augh! I own two seven inch and one 9 inch but no eight inch. I looked at the nearest potential shop, the Aga Shop on Ecclesall Road. Luckily given the huge cost, they didn’t have the size I needed. I called Waitrose but no-one from that department was available. Before setting out on my bike on the off chance of finding a suitable tin somewhere I asked Lydia. Hurrah! She kindly lent me one of her many cake tins to avert the first potential disaster of the day.
I reverted to relaxed cooking, Ian continued reading the internet and Sally gathered her strength for the gazebo raising. She and I had discussed bake-off tactics. The options I was prepared to bake were cherry cake (my choice) or chocolate cake. Sally asked if I wanted to win or just make something for us to eat. She suggested that cherry cake would never win; chocolate was the way to go in competitive baking. We settled on cherry cake.
I made chilled tomato and orange soup then made a start on the cake. I’m a lazy baker. I like to minimise the amount of washing up as I go along so first I weighed out the caster sugar then carefully placed the butter on top of that. I creamed them together, added the beaten eggs, sifted in the flour and then added the quartered glace cherries, which I’d coated in ground almonds. As I put the completed cake into the oven, the top sprinkled with Demerara, I could hear a commotion around the front of the house.
Aine and Laura had listened to my stupid suggestion of the day before and were stringing bunting across the street from their upstairs window to ours and then over to the top of a streetlight higher up the road. The commotion seemed the be generated by a H&S disaster waiting to happen. Ian and Sally were reaching out of the window, over a heavily overloaded desk, trying to catch the end of the bunting that the girls were throwing up to them, somewhat ineffectually. Once that was finally done without anyone falling headfirst into the street we geared up for the great set-up. The last cars were ushered out and the road closed signs erected.
Inevitably the first drops of rain began to fall as we opened the gazebo bags. Last year, very sensibly, the poles had been separated so that each gazebo had its own set. Less sensibly, the instructions had disintegrated and been thrown away. We divided the first lot into different types of poles (1, 1a, 1b, 2, 2a, 2b, 3, 4) and then stood for a comically long time trying to work out what went where. Sally has a fairly good spatial awareness and seemed to grasp the layout quicker than the rest of us. It took ages to get the first one up, almost as long with the second but then the third and fourth went up much quicker. The rain abated just as the last one was put in place. Whilst we struggled with the first one Richard and his friend had strolled along and put their sound-tent up in about five minutes. They filled it with PA stuff and were just hanging the walls on the back when the whole interlinked tent structure tried to take of sending us scurrying for buckets and bricks to weigh the legs down whilst a few doughty chaps served as anchors, stopping the thing kiting off into the stormy sky.
As always after this massive effort there was a quiet time whilst we slowly furnished the place with folding chairs and tables, populated them with plates of food, bottles of drink, & tat and treasures for the free tombola as people started trickling down to see what was going on. The Morris Side had arrived and colonised Laura’s house as they got ready and then suddenly, without any real organisation, it was Party On! Dancing, music, eating, drinking, talking, the usual stuff happened. Julia and Doug turned up with more chairs. Catherine drove up on her motorbike and watched the Morris. The cakes were judged. Mine had burnt slightly whilst we put up the gazabos, it was the only one not iced and, predictably, it didn’t win anything (Lydia’s fabulous carrot cake won) though half of it had already been devoured before I’d got it out of the kitchen to the judging table. Catherine went away. We drank tea/coffee to warm ourselves up. Amanda arrived. A very, very wonderful subset of the Everly Pregnant Brothers played a short but perfect set and had us belting out ‘No Oven, No Pie’ and clamouring for more. And then all the food was gone, it was an hour until we had to reopen the road and the welly whanging competition waited in the wings. We quickly and carefully tore down our lovely structure, packed it away for next year then drew a chalk line on the road.
What can I say about welly whanging? Surely it is the quintessential community game. All it needs is a welly and some enthusiasm. The candidates face away from their throw, bend over and chuck the welly up the road between their legs. Some wellies slithered a few feet, some achieved tremendous trajectories. It was a long a tense hour and at the end somebody had won the coveted rosette. The rosettes were presented, and then we, grudgingly, reopened the road. The festivities didn’t stop for quite some time. Anna and Paul had prepared a lovely game where Paul dropped a ‘rat’ (old sock stuffed with sand with a tail and ears sewn on) down a piece of drain pipe and the player had to hit the rat as it emerged. This turned out to be fairly difficult although a few people did finally manage to squash the rat.
It was getting really quite chilly. Ian, Sally and I went in and watched the young people continue to party for another hour or so, stepping onto the pavement as cars wanted to go past.
Today, sadly, the cars have re-colonised the road. It’s rained so persistently all day that most of the chalk marks from the welly whanging have washed away. Sally and Laura have just reclaimed the bunting. All the remains are some very full recycling bins, a red mug and a bowl of strawberries on the wall next door and the beautiful posters still decorating most of our windows.
The trailer, masterfully produced by Ian Sorensen, is here.