The Village: A right royal do

Posted March 22, 2011

The Village: A right royal do

“What do you mean I’m cooking for the street?” This was my husband’s horrified reaction when I told him that I’d volunteered us to help arrange a street party. I explained that it was just a get together for the neighbours and that all we’d have to do is prepare a few dishes and bring along some drinks. He pointed out that I don’t actually cook so any ‘preparing’ would be totally left to him. I ignored his comments and told him that we had already committed to helping out. I mean, how difficult could it be?

It all began when I heard the soft plop of a note landing on the doormat. It was from Mags, asking if anyone would be interested in holding a party to celebrate the Royal Wedding. I immediately phoned her to say that we’d love to get involved. She ran through the list of people who had already come back to her. Some I already knew and others I hadn’t met before such as the part-time fireman (I’m sure I would have remembered that!). She had arranged a casual coffee morning to sound things out which I bowled along to, full of enthusiasm.

Chatting over coffee, we began bouncing ideas as to where and how we would hold the party. The initial suggestion was to use the inside of our garages, moving in rotation from one volunteer’s house to another. Mags agreed that we should keep the festivities outside, despite the risk of rain. “I couldn’t possibly take my children into other people’s homes,” she said. I can’t imagine that her brood are that feral but she did seem pretty insistent.

I was already calculating how many weekends we had left in which to empty the contents of our garage and sweep it out before it was fit for any other inhabitation aside from ourselves and the spiders. Not enough, I concluded. I envied those with their painted floors and neatly racked walls. But it turns out I wasn’t the only that was worried. “My God, have you seen the inside of my garage recently?” wailed one of the neighbours, “I can’t even get in there, never mind the street”. Someone else helpfully suggested that we could tumble out of the garage on to the driveways. It was beginning to sound more like a bric-a-brac sale than a street party.

Facing up to the shame of our garages was enough for the first session. So we agreed to meet at The Swan one evening to move the arrangements along. This time my husband joined me. We were having a few drinks in the bar beforehand, not realising that a room downstairs had been booked for the meeting. As we slunk in late and took our place at the conference table it was clear that there was a big turnout. Mags and her husband, Conor, were chairing events and discussions were already well under way. Paul, the fireman, revealed that he had a marquee stored in his garage (as you do!) and that we could use it for the party. We debated having tables the length of the street but weren’t sure if we would annoy those who were noncommittal about a party. I said we should go for it. Music? Definitely!  Bunting? Oh, yes please!!

It was all starting to sound very festive and bright … and bigger than I’d thought. Actually I hadn’t really given it any proper thought before jumping in with both feet. It was clear that Mags and co were up to the job; they must have done something like this before. By contrast, I was feeling totally out of my depth. I’ve spent my entire adult life ducking responsibilities and running a mile from anything that included the word committee or community. So what on earth came over me? It’s simple really: the desire to get to know my neighbours better. The French hold a Fête des Voisins (Neighbours Day) every year. Wills and Kate getting hitched seems the perfect reason for us to do the same.

The talk turned to food. One person thought it would be a great idea to cook to different themes – Mexican, for example, or Italian. A few of the men suggested a barbecue section. I was way out of my comfort zone trying to imagine what food we could conjure up and I could tell my husband was too. I remembered back to the time that we were invited to a summer garden party. Each couple had to bring a dish with them. Knowing how undomesticated we were, our friends decided to leave nothing to chance and entrusted us with bringing the bread. Unfortunately we got the timings wrong and arrived clutching eighteen baguettes just as everyone was tucking into their desserts.

“You could do shots!” came an emphatic cry from the end of table. What have we done to give the impression that we’d make ideal shots candidates, I wondered. I don’t think my husband has the addled look of Charlie Sheen working his way through the bar optics on one of his legendary weekend benders. Maybe they’ve caught us on CCTV camera on our secretive, late night trip to the bottle bank or they’ve heard the clinking of the empty bottles as we load them into the car.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I started to warm to the suggestion. If we did tequila shots we could link in with the Mexican theme and solve our food dilemma at the same time. All we’d need to do is bring some slices of lemon or lime and salt…..and maybe a few nachos. And if we serve enough tequila shots, nobody will notice our lack of culinary expertise. The hungry kids might though. Oh rats, forgot about them!! We could always volunteer a late evening slot in the hope that the kids would have dozed off by then.

Last week I received another note from Mags – she’s like a dog with a bone – which revealed that the arrangements were gathering pace. We’ve now had a further group meeting to hammer out the logistics of the day. It was agreed that each family would be responsible for providing their own food and drinks and would also bring a dish along for sharing. Phew!! My husband can relax now that he knows he’s not cooking for the street although I think he’ll be a bit disappointed at not being able to follow through with the shots idea. Next on the agenda was how to entertain the kids on the day. We all looked like rabbits caught in headlights when Mags asked for creative ideas. “A clown!” someone desperately blurted out. This met with sighs of relief. Children’s entertainer was one item on the agenda we were all glad to outsource.

We then moved on to talking about the more heavyweight stuff such as erecting the marquee, setting up a sound system, moving tables and chairs into position and establishing a barbecue area.  This really grabbed the attention of the assembled males and each one suddenly took on the persona of a roadie. Gary, the owner of the sound system, asked if we would like to add some live music to the mix. His kids are in a band and would be more than happy to make an appearance. Clearly he is the Simon Cowell of the street and has now been given the title of ‘Music Man’. Fireman Paul is in charge of the marquee and lighting.  And what did I volunteer for? I’ve opted for cleaning and tidying up afterwards. I know my limits.

“Do you realise that nobody mentioned the actual wedding,” said Mags when we gathered upstairs in the pub for a drink afterwards. But we haven’t entirely forgotten it. There are plenty, like me, who will be glued to the television screen lapping up every moment of the ceremony. And afterwards we’re all looking forward to joining our neighbours in raising a toast to the royal couple. Best wishes to William and Kate!

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