I have recently attended a Christmas market event in Spalding town centre which was the subject of much derision, seemingly, regarding its content and the apparent lack of awareness of it being held.
I can see certain parallels to an event, along with other people, we staged some years ago.
Where I used to live we had a sort of “togetherness” in holding or staging events in the area that ranged from gala days, attracting thousands, to bingo nights which catered for the elderly and less mobile.
We believed in what we were doing and we enjoyed it as a group of family, friends and neighbours who put on events.
Our first gala day cost us mere double figures cash-wise and that was for the public liability insurance to stage the event.
But it took a couple of thousand pounds for local charities because it was fun and we had no “titles” as in chairman, etc, considering ourselves to all be equal in what we did - doing it freely.
In 2004, fellow “groupie” Arthur suggested that we stage a “Christmas 1944” style event in that we turned the clock back to 1944, as in sixty years ago, and on a Saturday towards Christmas, fill the local town square with period offerings, plus sideshows and charity stalls as there was nothing of any merit on offer.
“We were going to entertain and provide as the basis for “our” event being held, so local charities and causes benefited while we derived some fun from it all - not forgetting the long hours and hard work!
Our merry group of six spun into action, it was June and so, first things first, we applied and got a street closure order in order to stage it.
Then we got the public liability insurance, fortunate in that a local garage heard of our plans and sponsored it.
But I was touched when I asked if they wanted their name on any posters etc, and the response was “No” - if we were working without any lashing of “names up in lights”, then they expected the same.
Then somebody offered to print any posters, etc. we needed with, once again, no mention of praise as they were willing to “do their bit” also.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, as a section of our community did try assorted ploys to undermine our efforts once they became apparent as we were basically looked upon as “riff-raff”.
Maybe so, but we were proud, hard-working riff-raff and we were also referred to as “these sort of people”, something that made us only double our efforts even more.
The initial idea was that we turned back the clock to 1944 and how the town would, or might have, looked then, with tape criss-crossed over the windows, posters with “Careless talk cost lives”, etc, with it being wartime.
Our Neil knew a local 1940s-style battle re-enactment group with military vehicles who, for a plate of sandwiches and mugs of tea, would come along in uniform with their vehicles on the day.
So the idea progressed to have battle vehicles travelling through and on the way to France, as might have been at that time, took shape.
We did not mention this to the local media then as we could visualize the local elected members having palpitations if they learned of it.
But we saved that for later.
It was now August and we figured that we were due for another bit of “sabotage” and, true to form, it presented itself and we were invited to attend a meeting betwixt them and us “riff-raff”.
It went much like a Carry On-style film, but we walked away with all the letters dotted or crossed and left them rather confounded and, no doubt, planning their next move.
But like those in the 1940s, we were prepared and the only thing missing was that corporal chap from TV’s “Dad’s Army” shouting “They don’t like it up ‘em!” and how right he would have been.
Half time scores weas: Those Who Think They Know 0 Local Riff-Raff 1.
Months passed and the eventual Saturday came.
We were on the town square at 5am, with frost still very evident, to await the first arrivals to set up.
We cordoned the square off and we had a lifting barrier installed manned by Keith, a volunteer in army uniform, who saluted everybody who required vehicle access.
Neil’s friend Bill and his mates came in their military vehicles, a convoy of over 27 of them (one was used in the film Evita and the owner brought a display board with all the various stills from the film it was seen in) ranging from Jeeps to armoured cars to half tracks or put another way, we had our own private army.
There were people in military uniform wandering about and greeting people, many of them it has to be said, as we did publicise it well and they came from all over the place and made our efforts worthwhile.
Charities had set their stalls up, we had some fairground rides, live music from assorted local singing groups, the local drama group did their bit on the stage provided by my neighbour Charlie who owned a haulage company.
It attracted About Anglia TV news to the event which upset the elected members no end, we heard later, and they were conspicuous by their absence as out of over two dozen of them, three appeared very briefly.
Friend Brian was belting out Glenn Miller and other period tunes on his electric organ, plus drums, etc and we had people both in period custom and those just taken by it all joining in, dancing away on that square and to say it was quite moving would be an understatement.
We went on till nearly seven o’clock and frost was forming as we dismantled everything and headed off home to a warm fire.
As time went on, we heard back from the charities and causes who had stalls there and all had done well in their takings. So the bottom line was that we as local “riff-raff” had entertained many from near and far, helped assorted causes raise funds and we felt a sort of glow that we had achieved something.
Sadly not supported by those most would have thought as being thrilled about it but at least we worked at it and got on with the job we set out to do.
Like those of 60 years before, we had that certain spirit that said we wouldn’t be beaten.
A few months ago, I came across a set of photographs of the event and what stands out is that in most of them, people are smiling and enjoying themselves - possibly we helped make their day special.
I would like to think the above might give some spark of possibility to some towards sorting something for the future.
But in my case, I can say I did it along with a few friends and if nothing else, with the right spirit, proves things can be done.