The ns guide to self-indulgence - Fetes

Summer fete? Fate worse than death, we snarled as moody adolescents. But it's funny how a couple of decades and a houseful of kids can change your perspective. In these days of Disney theme parks and Play Station audio-visual thuggery, summer fetes are a wholesome and innocent option for a sunny afternoon. Well, I say sunny, but there has to be a downpour at some stage of the afternoon - just so we can be British and insist that our spirits aren't dampened one little bit.

For summer fetes are what we British do best. The old days are mostly over, the days when they happened only in dozing villages and were riven by obscure, long-standing feuds about who was robbed in the seed-cake competition, amid muttering about how long the vicar spent in the beer tent. These days they are more likely to be run by suburban schools raising funds, or set in sports clubs. Ambitious councillors hire state-of-the-art dodgems, fairground rides and Ferris wheels.

But these are still authentic fetes; and the key to enjoying them is to remember that they are not a cheap afternoon out and, since they are mostly raising money for good causes, shouldn't be. Arrive with bags of change and a song in your heart. If there are stalls selling home-made baking, go for fruit cakes, since they are unlikely to have dried out - unlike the sponges. The smaller and twinklier-eyed the old ladies are, the more savage their chutneys and the stronger their marmalades are likely to be. Run in all the races, try out all the rides. Don't complain when the children come back laden with multicoloured plastic junk that they won after only ten goes at 50p a time, or when the spouse, after testing local beers in the interests of science, is suddenly unable to do anything other than smile. A summer without a fete is a summer misspent.

This article first appeared in the 07 June 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Europe grows after Kosovo