Three parts of London, three very different summer Sunday fairs...
Upminster Windmill Craft Fair and Pageant, RM14 One technologically-advanced pensioner stops in sight of the windmill and digs around in her handbag. "I must get my phone out and take a video of the sails turning," she says. It's a sight local residents haven't seen for decades - rotation above rooftops - with the mill's cap mechanism very recently returned to working order. For the Craft Fair somebody's gone to the extra effort of linking bunting to the end of each sail [photo], which sounds hair-raising until you stop and think how it must have been achieved. Later in the afternoon volunteers will be offering tours inside the windmill, but nobody's allowed inside just yet because the mayor's being shown round first. It's only fair, I guess, given that the council still owns the place. But the Friends of Upminster Windmill are hoping to buy it outright, if only they can raise enough cash, and then go full out for a lottery grant. Anyone want to buy a bag of milled flour, or a set of blank-inside greetings cards, or a plastic ruler? On the grassy lawn a loopway of stalls has been laid out, featuring a wide and eclectic variety of local organisations. A man from the parks service has brought his collection of skulls and stuffed animals, and is explaining all about them to an absorbed audience. Don Woods is here, from the International Guild of Knot Tyers, as are a pair of boatered souls making corn dollys the traditional Essex way [photo]. When the crowds pick up later in the day, maybe somebody will finally wander over and sample their rustic wares. Two gentlemen from the Thames Chase Community Forest try hard to convince me that the café in their visitors centre serves up toast to die for, and nearly succeed. There's also amateur dramatics, on the hour every hour, courtesy of the Oglethorpe Players and their wartime revue. Have a cheese and ham baguette while you wait for the performance to begin, or look over the vintage vehicles lined up at the edge of the car park. It could almost be a village fair, this Upminster gathering, and many of the residents of almost-Essex probably wish it was.
Charlton Horn Fayre, SE7 They banned it in Victorian times for being too rowdy. An age-old celebration of pagan ritual, kicking off with a procession from Bermondsey to Charlton, where everyone cavorted and wore horns, or something. Nobody's quite sure how it began, and the recentrevival is a pale shadow of such ancient revelry. But they're celebrating again on the lawn round the back of Charlton House, and a certain amount of lowbrow rowdiness remains. Up front a DJ MC hosts amateur live music to a resilient showerproof audience. Down the back there's a bouncy castle beside a rather damp (and very empty) roundabout. And inbetween are spread a veritable mishmash of stalls, mostly community-based, but with the occasional dash of something aspirational. One lady's baked posh cupcakes, but is facing stiff competition from a table piled high with iced sponges the size of loaves of bread. A minibusful of pentecostal churchgoers huddle for comfort beneath a dripping awning - they'll be out a-praising later. Opposite the toy library tombola, a display hoping to inform people that Woolwich Library is moving has been irreversibly streaked by the rain. In this weather you really don't want to be the Japanese woman demonstrating calligraphy - only a makeshift plastic screen shields her work from ruin. When the rain finally eases the Dog Show begins, and an appreciative boisterous crowd gathers around the central arena [photo]. The waggiest tail belongs to an English Bull Terrier, with a Staffie as runner up, to the obvious delight of the assembled demographic. A drag queen totters by, plus entourage, completely out of place amongst the tattoos and kagoules. The mayor of Greenwich is also here, having parked his shield-topped car by the portaloos. He stops to chat to the nice ladies from the church and the war veterans, but gives the populist canine shenanigans a miss [photo]. A most peculiar event, the Horn Fair, but oh how it brings the neighbourhood together.
Marylebone Summer Fayre, W1 Once a year the streets of Marylebone are sealed off and the public invade. So many roads are closed you'd think they'd be hard to fill, but the place is rammed with cosmopolitan souls out for a jolly good time [photo]. Most appear to be here for the food, which is convenient because there are more food stalls than any human could comfortably sample in a month. Think brioche, paella and churros, rather than hot dog, burger and chips. Everywhere you look there's someone guzzling pulses out of a cardboard tray, or downing a Pimms, or both. The most appealing foodstuffs are to be found in the car park, where the weekly farmer's market is taking place, and seemingly everything (salad, cider, cheese, etc) is organic. Nextdoor is a funfair, with witheringly long queues for the most popular rides, so long as little Tilly and Marcus can wait that long. Various estate agents are competing to give away branded balloons, in the hope they'll bob around the streets all afternoon, although there's also an official helium giveaway in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. Tickets for the event's charity tombola cost an eyewatering two pounds each, but with potential prizes to match. A passing father buys five for his family, and wins nothing. Paddington Gardens is full of picnickers watching semi-professional music acts, while elsewhere there are two separate dance areas for couples to salsa, jive or whatever the default ballroom steps are when you're making it up as you go along [photo]. In the 'Spa Area' I'm asked if I'd like a free Indian head massage for charity, which is certainly a new twist on the word free. I decline. There's certainly less of a community involvement here, although the local library and churches all have stalls if you look carefully enough. A greater contrast to the events in Upminster and Charlton, both in scale and in attitude, it might be hard to find. But all three fairs targeted their home audiences well, and I suspect you know which of the trio you'd have preferred.