Two men and a woman, all in best evening dress (black velvet and the like), hauling a three -foot cannon across a field. About a hundred people of all ages gathered round to watch their somewhat untogether progress. 'OK, we think we should explain what we're up to. We represent the Military Wing of the Cromer and District Round Table...'. Their mission, to drive off the accursed Peace Convoy (more on them later) by firing pickled gherkins at it from the cannon. About a hundred yards away, another military expedition is blundering about. Hampered by totally opaque face masques and vast quantities of chicken wire, rusty Hurricane lamps and other unnecessary equipment, these two pose even less of a threat to anyone. Also, on the field are a number of clowns, a pair of jugglers, various other theatricals and a collection of extremely drunken Morris dancers. It's August bank-holiday weekend at the Fire and Water Fayre at Holt on the north Norfolk coast.
If you've had enough of static entertainment, take a wander round the market stalls. You've a few hundred to get round: 'Moondragon silver jewellery, painted goose eggs, diverse museli’s, herb stalls, hand-framed knitwear, goat's yoghurt, Icenic spinning wheels, Rhubarb and Custard original toys, Grange Farm recycled tools, pyrography' (from the programme of the Stour Valley Earth Fayre the previous week). There's badges, balloons, old books, new books, Danish iron stoves, face painters, hair sprayers, all manners of clothing and footwear, rolling gear, beads and bangles, causes political and charitable, and finally (most important) food in unimaginable variety (munchies are good for you!) At some of the stalls they're making things (so that's how it's done): pot throwing and firing (no, not an airborne joint), puzzle games made with a jigsaw, spinning and weaving, kitemaking, tofu making, thatching, windmill building ...
Two or three thousand people meander around in the sunshine. Kids and dogs are everywhere, the whole thing looks totally chaotic and it doesn't really matter - everyone's having a good time. A sign at the entrance to the field proclaims, 'It's never too late for a happy childhood', and this is what it's all about. Every way you look, there's something amazing going on. So much is new, good and different from the farce that people have the nerve to call everyday life, that your eyes are as open in wonder as those of a child, the difference of age - and everything else - simply aren't quite there. One of the best things I came across was a free sauna and communal hot shower, womped up from a couple of old oil drums, some lengths of rubber tube and an earth oven, the rewards of ingenuity without its usual attendant greed. I felt cleaner inside and out. Peace and love? Well, why not?
It's further sighted than a return to the sixties. Fire and Water is on the Albion Fayre circuit, which was evolved from the Barsham Fairs of the mid-70s. They're an attempt to recapture the atmosphere of medieval fairs and have something of this air about them. A few thousand people, mainly local, of all ages and walks of life (IE; not just young druggies), gathered in a field in the middle of nowhere. The ration of passive consumers to people who've put in the work is low, perhaps ten to one. These Fayres aren't very commercial - as one stallholder reckoned, 'If you're going to make a loss, this is the nicest place to do it'.
Evening comes and the 'street' actors melt into the moon-shadows and the pyrotechnics start (well, this is a Fire Fayre, isn't it?)
Fireworks and flares torchlit processions, music and performance, fire-eaters and breathers, at one Fayre (Faerie) 'Beowulf' recited round a camp fire. Still lots of kids under foot, the dogs are a bit scared by all the explosions and most of them have gone away to hide. Later the music gets going: from Atilla the Stockbroker to heavy Metal bands from Ipswich, to an acoustic reggae band (with a 'cello!?) to Nick Turner to the Wystic Mankers from the Tibetan Ukraine to Mr Spratt’s 21st Century Popular Motet (5-piece vocal band, highly recommended) to...
This was a good year for fairs and festivals. You could spend three months continuously at one fair / festival or another. One group that did this was Peace Convoy, which started at Stonehenge in June, passed through Greenham in July and was last heard of characteristically generating mixed feelings in East Anglia. There's no doubt that this motley collection caused a lot of headaches for the people who were trying to get the Albion Fayres together, especially with their habit of arriving early, crashing in without paying and setting up somewhere really inconvenient from everyone else's point of view. Indeed, at Holt they were so totally in the way that the entire stage and stall layout had to be changed about two days before the Fayre started. Word is that the Convoy has succeeded in giving bad names to pacifists, festivals, druggies, anarchists and especially to peace convoys. But there's no doubt that their presence did contribute, for better or worse, to the fayres in one particular way. Here's their price list:
Black £20-25, Lebanese £15-18, Moroccan £12-14, homegrown £6, imported grass up to £16, acid (many varieties £1-2 per hit), UK Mushrooms £1, Mexican £5, opium £68, cocaine £60-65 (or £1 lines at about £100 p.g.)
speed £12, heroin in £5 bags (Prices unless stated are per quarter
ounce for cannabis, per gram for everything else).
It's rumoured that tobacco and alcohol were also around, but these do cost more for what you get... I don't want to make any direct comment on the Convoy, Nor (as a consumer ) can I say much on what some of them were selling, except that I objected to having speed 'pushed' on me by a kid who can't have been more than ten years old.
One of the rituals at the Fire and Water Fair was to build a replica village out of logs and off-cuts of wood and then to set it on fire. Up on higher ground a reservoir of water was then released to flood said village.
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