Since I don’t really have a stock of Easter related stories to recount, today I’m going to look at what I can accurately describe as my international carnival career. Even as I started to write this, I had forgotten quite what a part these parades had actually had in my life.
As a child my carnival caperings began as a spectator rather than a participant when Goffs Oak, in common with virtually every other town and village in the country, held its own annual carnival parade and fete. It was no small thing either. The lorries, many provided through the generosity of local garden supplies’ merchant Colin Edward, plus vans, and decorated cars, stretched up Newgatestreet Road from outside the Methodist Church to almost Beehive Road. Every organisation in the district was represented. I’m pretty sure my grandad was in it one year with the Goffs Oak Horticultural Society. Majorettes, Carnival Queens, floats galore and people in fancy dress rattling buckets. This was Carnival how the Brits did it. Barely a feather head dress or glittery sparse bikini in sight – well not unless the Second Cheshunt Guides had chosen a Polynesian theme for their float that year which was highly unlikely in the scheme of things.
The parade, watched by most of the village and several hundred more, wound its way through the streets of Goffs Oak before ending up on the playing fields where the fete was held. The fete itself was always opened by a ‘celebrity’ and though I struggle to recall just who, I seem to remember the boxer Billy Walker doing it one year. Possibly because I have photos of the event to remind me.
And then it died away, or did I just stop going? I recall taking part in a number of parades whilst I was in the Sea Cadets although they were mostly Jubilee related bashes not traditional carnivals. And yet, there is a photo of me in uniform on the back of a float. Cheshunt carnival I suppose though I honestly have no recall of that at all. There was the Battle of Flowers in Jersey too which I have mentioned before but we were just crown control and beer bottle openers at that event.
Then sometime in the late 80s or early 90s, Richard dragged me along to a Carnival Committee meeting. I think that Cuffley Carnival had been dormant for a few years but a new committee – for which I had apparently volunteered – was working in conjunction with the neighbouring village of Northaw to revive the event. It was actually a huge success – much due to the generosity of local garden supplies’ merchant Colin Edward, who supplied half the lorries, and Vic Roberts (Previously mentioned in this blog) who provided several more including the youth club’s. It must have been a success because I think it carried on for several more years. I have seen photos of the youth club and/or Toc H in later carnivals though I must admit I wasn’t involved.
In fact you have to jump forward to about 2000 when I next clamber on the back of a float. Someone at Fitzpatrick (I know it was you Michelle Turner so don’t bother hiding) thought it would be a spiffing idea for us to dress up in costumes and enter Hoddesdon carnival. I note I was the only Senior Manager to get involved which shows something though I’m not sure which. The theme chosen was the Wizard of Oz and I was Lion. I very nearly made the newspapers for all the wrong reasons when, as the Lady Mayor was judging us, I let out an almighty roar right in her ear’ole almost causing her to expire on the spot. Despite that, we won first prize in our category.
Al this though, has just been a build up to the real thing. The few short years I took part in the Poperinge Carnival. Now the Belgians like a good parade and they are quite good at it, many groups building the elaborate costumes and floats you often see on the continent. The local Toc H, buoyed by members from Toc H in the UK had long taken part. I was a late come to the scene which meant I missed being a Mad Cow, a Telly Tubby and a member of the Royal Family. As I said in the blog about Dougie it was 2003 when I first joined in. Dressed as ‘agrid, I led our little group jointly with our Harry, followed by a procession of Hogwarts students, Dumbledore, and a flying Ford Anglia complete with a papier-mache Dobby strapped to the bonnet and Moaning Myrtle waving regally from the back seat. It was an inspired choice and we won a prize.
Those weekends were fun-filled affairs. They began on Friday with a Children’s parade that involved the flinging of a lot of confetti. On alternate years we did a party for disadvantaged children instead of entering the parade. That meant we still got to dress up but had less walking to do.
The other actual Poperinge Carnival that springs to mind was the one where the Belgian Toc H’ers decided that the momentous occasion of the moving of Poperinge library into new premises deserved immortalising in carnival. We were all given instructions to make elaborate ebookworm costumes. The Belgians duly started making theirs sometime before Christmas whilst the Brits turned up in Belgium on the Thursday before the Sunday Carnival with a couple of sewing machines and a roll of material. The museum space at Talbot House was like a Philippine sweatshop all day Friday and Saturday whilst the costumes were turned out. The Belgians scratched their heads and muttered about Brits not leaving things until the last minute (Just wait until Brexit rears its ugly head, I didn’t say). Come Sunday though we were all on parade with our barrow full of cardboard books. Not that the barrows remained full of cardboard books. Every time the parade came to a halt, which is the way of all carnival parades, one of us would distract Gregory (one of the Belgian Toc H stalwarts), whilst the rest of us hoiked bricks and other handy heavy objects into his barrow and covered them with cardboard books. By the time we reached the finish line poor Gregory was wheeling most of the old library building with him. He looked very tired!
All in all I think I preferred the children’s parties. As pirates, dwarves and explorers we took part in an array of party games (Mostly Belgian in origin) to the delight of the guests. Many were children with learning difficulties and I was in my element. They included the wonderful Arne. A 14 year old almost my size whose English was perfect and no-one knew why or how. They were glorious days and I miss them.
My carnival career was not yet done though. About With Friends would turn up to the opening of a fridge so of course we took part in Cromer Carnival. It is, I believe, one of the biggest surviving traditional British carnivals. Over the years I was variously a Teddy Boy, Mad-Eyed Moody in a return to Harry Potter, and Augustus Gloop (though it was unanimously agreed I looked more like Where’s Wally). Good times, equally missed.
And since it is a solemn day, I will mention two other parades with religious connections that I won’t be recommending. The first I witnessed in Belgium one July and was a parade of endless crosses known as Maria-Ommegang and the second, no less endless, was the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin. Clearly aimed at our American cousins, there are only so many Pipe and Drum bands one can handle before the lure of green tinted lager drags you into a bar. You see not all carnivals are equal!