Plough Inn 2014

2014 - A Little Touch Of Harry In The night

The Appliance of Compliance

I suppose we should start calling it ‘Ashes Thursday’ really – the day before the event actually starts when we drag everything out into a hire van and pack it all tightly into the back before bundling the Brats into the cab and heading south, your correspondent perilously balanced on a pile of tents and bedding in the blackness of the hold…
This time Ashes Thursday dawned with some feelings of foreboding hanging over it. This was the year we had to placate the exacerbated trunch of Huntingdon Council’s SAG (Safety Advisory Group), and anything, it seemed, might happen.

It all began for us last year when some very nice police officers came on site asking to see out ‘risk assessment’ papers. Of course we had none – nor had we any idea that such were necessary. Mr Porter was given a long but well-intentioned lecture on the necessity of compliance with all kinds of regulations governing public assembly and was advised that while this year they would overlook the omission, next year we would have to jolly well knuckle down and do it by the book or else.

Next year came round. Mr Porter was further subjected in March to a three hour SAG meeting in Huntingdon itself where he was advised of all the regulations that had to be met and complied with. Most, admittedly, the responsibility of the venue, but there were some matters concerning stewarding and First Aid personnel that we got lumped with, and this is why there was such a to do about yellow vests and manning the gate and the like this year. It’s not that we either wanted it or thought it was necessary, but the bottom line was that we needed to be seen to be following the rules, and there was every likelihood that officers would turn up and have a look around to make sure we were doing so. In fact we were advised that this was almost certain to happen either on the Friday or Saturday morning.

Still, we loaded up without incident and made it down to Farcet Fen, without a puncture this year, to find one tent already in the process of going up. The gentleman in residence was immediately conscripted into the Yellow Jacket Club – which was easy as he had brought his own – and we set about erecting the mighty blue thunderdome. That was pretty much it for Thursday then. Putting up tents and marking out the fire lane, dinner at The Plough and then an early night (for some) ready to start panicking about health and safety on the following morning.
We have nothing against health and safety – a lot of it is simply jolly sensible, but a healthier and more safety-conscious bunch of campers you could not hope to meet than those at The Ashes. In the end the council never showed up, and we suspect that their energy was aimed chiefly at forcing the venue to carry out some refurbishment and that with this end achieved back at the start of the summer they were content to let us get on with it. To be on the safe side, though, we were asked to keep a First Aid position manned constantly, and the gate had to be staffed at all times, unless it was locked shut. This we complied with stringently until latish on the Saturday when it became apparent that we were pretty much in the clear. Thereafter we let it slide a little and no one was any the worse for it. Let’s face it – nearly everyone present had a first aid kit of some sort, and the high percentage of parents present were accustomed to dealing with minor lumps and bumps on a day to day basis. Really we could just have left a bottle of Calpol and some Peppa Pig plasters on the First Aid position and that would have done the trick. Bur we didn’t know that!

Anyhow, many thanks to all those who did a stint both as first aiders and on the gate. We had no idea what to expect, and there was little choice but to comply and hope for the best. It could very easily have been a lot more difficult, but everyone pitched in and made a great job of it. Mr Porter was thrilled with the radios provided by the venue on the Friday and Saturday – and it was their non-appearance on the Sunday morning that hinted to us that maybe the worst danger was past, and that not even Huntingdon SAG would venture forth on the Sabbath to try and catch us with our pants down.

So Friday kicked off with the usual setting up, sorting out, and getting things together. Annie commenced running the stage as usual on the Friday evening, and a mighty galaxy of stars there was too! The field began to fill up, the weather was pleasant, and with gate-duty and the like in hand we were finally able to convince ourselves that it was not all going to go tits up.

Neither did it! The marquee rocked and swayed to the assorted rhythms and rhymes until slinging out time, at which folk adjourned and went about their separate debaucheries. I seem to recall there may have been a fire pit party that night, but having retired early with The Brats I missed out on it, although some lovely guitar drifted across to the tent, and some very impressive rapping at some point. Anyhow – the gate had been abandoned by now and all were soon tucked up safe in their beds and snoring sweetly.

Saturday dawned, and with it 1000 tasks for those with yellow jackets. Thanks to Number 1 Ruth for assisting with the set up of Mr Porter’s music school, and a multitude of other tasks assigned by the idle one. Music school, as it turned out, was a little premature for most, but we did have a good session with Josh on guitar, and it picked up on the Sunday morning. Suffice it to say that breakfasts were consumed, the gate was manned, and all was ready for the acts to come onstage at Curtains Up and get on with the proceedings.
Don’t even ask me to name them in order. That was Annie’s affair, and Yours Truly was very much involved in piling up clay, paint and paper as required in the Children’s Tent, strutting about with his radio looking important, fielding complaints from the local  Archery Club – whose storage container someone had parked ‘in the vicinity of’ to their extreme disgust, and generally trying to look busy. Thus it was almost no time at all until the hour was nigh and we all made our way to the cricket field.
Due to a late and unavoidable cancellation we had an extra hour for the cricket this year, which was just as well as after a marathon innings, made spectacular chiefly by the amount of catches we dropped, Cracktown were all out for 175. The dark Fox thought he had it in the bag – and so did we! At one point it really did seem that the only thing we were going to have won was the toss – but thanks to that old adage that ‘he who bats first, loses’, we managed to catch up, and while it looked like a thrilling competition for a while, there came a point when we had fifteen batsmen in hand, an hour and a half to play, and only twenty five runs needed. Thus it was that despite the usual braggadocio and dishonesty from our foe, Blyth Power won the match and regained the Ashes. Hurrah.
Thanks to Roger for umpiring as usual. My personal high-spot of the game was the ‘steampunk cycle run’ in which the young batsman stood at the crease, an attendant holding his vintage bicycle beside him. They bowled. He batted, then climbed aboard the bicycle and cycled serenely down the wicket. See THAT is what sport is all about…
Music continued after the cricket, with a soaring Saturday night of rock ending with Blyth doing what they usually do on a Saturday night. With no family present this year to babysit we were obliged to park the brats under the merchandise stall when they were sleepy. It looked snug actually. I was envious…
More firepit ensued, I believe, but I was tucked up in my warm cot by then and fast asleep. In fact the rapping may have been on the Saturday night. I forget. It blends and blur.

Sunday morning saw a busy schedule in the second marquee. Mr Porter was delivering a drum lesson. Mr Henry Lawrence was offering juggling workshops, and of course the choir was down to learn ‘Catesby’ for a performance that morning onstage with Blyth Power. It was marvellous – we ended up with a scratch band playing along to the choir at rehearsal, so many thanks to all who came and joined in. The whole point of this ‘get the brats to play’ business is not that we think they ought to or need to, but just that it’s nice for it to be available for them if they want to.
Wob’s guitar class was pretty good too – with a galaxy of potential axe-wielders learning from the master. Just don’t show them the ukelelelelelelele…

So on with the music in its myriad forms, and first up were Blyth Power with the matinee performance for those parents who had been on duty the night before and did not have the benefit of a large table at the back of the marquee to hide their children under. Perhaps we should extend this facility next year? Thanks to the choir for a splendid performance onstage with us, and to Josh for joining in on the acoustic too.
Thereafter it pretty much rocked all day, culminating in a cracking pair of sets by Wob and Alcohol Licks. Once again Yours Truly was tucked up with the brats by this time, serenely not giving a damn about health and safety any more. And so we rolled on to the Monday...

Ashes Monday. Should we or shouldn’t we? Well it seems we should, as the whole thing seems to be taking off very nicely, with an amazing effort going into the village fete, and a real buzz around the marquee all day. We may well carry on the tradition at the new venue next year. It certainly seems like it's something people enjoy.
Monday started wet and remained wet throughout. Great performances all morning though, and I would like to say a particular welcome to Teq, who did his first live set that day. Jolly good stuff it was too, and by the time we ended the morning session there was a spirit of carnival in  the air.
Actually that’s bollocks. There was pretty much just clouds and rain in the air, but in the second marquee the diversity and quality of the stalls and sideshows had to be seen to be believed. It was awesome. This year’s award for innovation and astonishing attention to detail goes to ‘Ixion’s Wheel of Misfortune’ which was possibly one of the deciding factors ensuring the future of the Fete. It was truly marvellous.
Another children's story time followed. This is also proving popular, with our yarn-spinners becoming increasingly unpleasant as the event rolled on. Lord knows what horrors they will cook up next year. Once this was done it was time for the tug of war, egg and spoon races, both children’s and adult sack races, and more and more mayhem as the day wore on.

This was in part due to the several hundred Dutch motorcyclists booked into the adjacent field. The full story of ‘The Garbage Run’ is not ours to tell, but basically they were on their way from Hook of Holland to Edinburgh on clapped out salvaged 50cc bikes of considerable vintage. Sadly the field next door had been sprayed with shit and was in the grip of a hurricane, so the management asked if we would mind them coming into our field. As it was partially full of them by this point anyway we could hardly object, but as they were all splendid chaps, and the bikes represented such a magnificent collection of rolling scrap iron, we didn’t mind at all. In the end most of them came into the marquee for the late show which included a fine performance by Fisherman’s Broadside, after which it was time for the Ashes Monday Blyth set.

By this time Mr Porter was dripping wet from emptying the bins, and the brats were once again parked under the table. This year’s performance was ‘A Little Touch of Harry in the Night’ which by and large passed off painlessly, and we brought things to a close with the usual tear-jerking speeches. The usual exclusive booklets were passed out, and it was the end of another brilliant Ashes.

For me it was the best ever. Chiefly because the spirit and atmosphere among the people who now come year after year is amazing. There is a real unity there, and a real sense that everyone is there to spend time with each other, and that while the music and poetry is fun, that is only a small part of why we all come.
So thanks again for all the yellow vests. Thanks to all the bands and performers, thanks to the Plough for some great times, and most of all thanks to everyone who turns up and gives us the incentive to keep on doing it. New venue next year. See you there!