The word "village" conjures up a whole host of images to me, many revolving around hats: the village idiot (a Benny from Crossroads type of character in a knitted tea-cosy hat); the Village People (a group of camp muscle boys in daft hats); village cricket teams (an assortment of old men who were once good at the sport, and young men who are not very good and never will be, all wearing a raggle-taggle of caps); and village fetes (featuring ladies in those crap hats that usually come out only at weddings).
As I'm a straight guy who doesn't watch telly, has given up playing cricket and has a penchant for buying cheap cakes from ladies in hats, it is the village fete that I am drawn to summer after summer.
When we had our first kid 18 years ago, we started to spend our weekends at a B&B near a sandy beach on the south coast. Visits to the local fete always left me feeling a little sidelined. The dog show could be won only by a dog from the village (my fat, lump- riddled Weimaraner couldn't even get a look-in in the "fat and ugly" section, and boy was she fat and ugly). The idea of Captain Farquhar Ponsonby's wife's fondant fancies going to a non-resident was an Elgin Marbles-style outrage, and if "Splat the Rat" was being won by a kid from London, then even the vicar running the stall would cheat.
After a few years of bringing "ringers" in to beat the local menfolk in the tug o' war, and after queuing for an hour to claim George Pardew's wife's agapanthus from the plant stall, it was surprising that we were allowed to buy a house in the village. But ten long years later, once they had seen "that designer guy" on BBC Question Time and approved of my posh-ish sounding surname, I was invited to judge the fancy dress. It's amazing how Hollywood influences fancy dress at village fetes in West Sussex, and after a few summers of deciding which Hannibal Lecter, Edward Scissorhands, dinosaur from Jurassic Park or Pirate of the Caribbean would claim (poor sod) the free sail around the harbour with Mr Fetherington - a cantankerous retired naval officer who seems to have put off a whole generation of kids in the village and surrounds from taking up sailing - I decided I could take no more. The maypole dancing, the cream teas in the same old garden, listening to the same people complimenting the same gardeners on the same plants that (bar an inch or two) looked the same as last year, became too much, and my love affair ended.
When, however, my family and I heard of a designer village fete being held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was time to travel back to the city to get our fix. The designer village fete was dreamt up by Scarlet Projects over a couple of bags of home-made Devon fudge in response to the V&A's request to put together some lectures on contemporary design. We went along with the view that a load of po-faced designers gathering in the courtyard of the V&A over a weekend and having fun shouldn't work, but it does. All that stands between the public and future design stars is a rickety trestle table.
Design, and especially designers getting together and stroking their chins while dropping names such as Corbusier, Cappellini and Barcelona, can be very alienating to my family, never mind those who don't work in design. But this event isn't precious, slick or highbrow, and it can be very funny. It is perversely satisfying to see the children of designer parents forced into the kind of fancy dress costumes that will be mentioned in therapy sessions in 15 years' time. Those of us lucky enough to have witnessed them cannot forget past winners: Arthur the Swiss army knife, Georgie the Sony Walkman and Noah the Jacobsen mixer tap. I'm just waiting for some poor unsuspecting kid to dress up as Philippe Starck's useless lemon squeezer so that I can buy the biggest bloody lemon I can find and prove it doesn't work.
This year, designers are manning stalls where you can make your own candle (one for the ladies?) and customise lollies and ice creams. There's also a "Guess the House!" competition, inviting visitors to identify and/or place in chronological order an array of line-drawn images of domestic architecture through the ages. Winners will receive a book of the images, including the addresses so that they can hunt down the houses like real sad architectural groupies.
Marks & Spencer and Thomas Matthews have teamed up to present the human fruit machine. Players will pay 50p (the proceeds go to charity) for a chance to win a refreshing fruit smoothie. On pressing the start button, the human workings of the machine will delve into their baskets and select a piece of fruit. If all three fruits match, a prize can be claimed.
Multistorey is recreating paparazzi shots (such as the one of Liz Hurley wearing that dress) based on those seaside figures with the faces cut out, for visitors to be photographed poking their heads through. There's a Domestic Demolition Derby where children can destroy household objects in a controlled, safe environment. And there are a dozen or so "renaissance" village fete activities that will keep this British institution alive for a long while yet.
The fifth annual designer village fete is at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7 (020 7942 2000) on 30 July, 6.30pm-10pm, and 31 July, 1pm-5pm