A season of shallow fruitfulness is upon us, where seemingly every weekend is garlanded with a Summer Fair, Fayre, Fete, or some other such artificially contrived event. Each town along the coast having its own festival week.The Sheringham Carnival Committee works extremely hard to maintain and further extend its seasonal events calendar. In previous weeks Sheringham has had the Lobster & Crab Festival, one of many vintage car rallies and then there was the Dad's Army weekend. Yes, countless folks dressed up as Captain Mainwaring, Jonesy or Pike, continuing in the same appalling vein as the 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers Weekend,' sorry, I meant 1940's Weekend. The second weekend in July was the Lobster Potties Morris Dance Festival and the Methodist Church's Flower Festival.
Lobster Potties was celebrating its 25th Anniversary grandly by holding a world record breaking attempt at the largest number of people dancing the same dance at the same time. The current record being 144 people for 5 minutes from 2016. The call went out to the world of Morris and the world of Morris responded, the official count was 300+ people for 7 minutes 45 seconds, which makes one feel the current record holders weren't trying hard enough. It was an awesome thing to see, and a great way to mark their anniversary. The rest of the day alternating mixes of Morris folk dance groups do their best routines up and down the main streets and promenade. Its a really colourful and lively event, and quintessentially so English in character, ie, entertainingly barmy.
As a Morris dancer of old (that was 30 years ago it has to be said) I absolutely love this weekend. We would make a bee line for this festival as a reason to visit Sheringham even before we moved here. These days we have our favourite teams that we must see, such as the black and white patterned bizarreness of Pig Dyke Molly and the extravagantly be-feathered hats and Gothic darkness of The Witchmen. This year we added the 'steampunk' side Slack Ma Girdle from Suffolk to this selection. Brought by the celebration and world record attempt, a group came over from the Netherlands, and their was the delightful rarity of a Rapper side.
Rapper is a sword dance where five dancers weave in and out holding on to a double handled 'sword' for dear life as they move in increasingly convoluted and tangled turns to emerge miraculously out the other end in a clean formation. A well rehearsed Rapper side is a startling and impressive thing. I once attempted to learn rapper, its fiendishly difficult, requiring precision and focused concentration, one wrong move and the whole thing grinds to a potentially painful log-jamb. Unlike most Morris, in Rapper there is little room for casually bluffing your way out.
Unsurprisingly, the Morris Festival is not universally liked in Sheringham. To enable the weekend to happen bits of the main streets and promenade are closed off. So those folks who don't appreciate their set routines being altered, their liberties slightly adjusted or their desire to be able to drive into town and park right in front of the shop they want to visit, thwarted, don't appreciate it much. Some shops allege its bad for business. This year the World Cup's been bad for business, but you don't hear anyone dare say that aloud. It is clear that even after twenty five years the town's shops have not embraced the spirit of the Morris Festival in the same way they do the 1940's Weekend, with special windows etc.
Perhaps it feels like the festival is imposed on them. Its often cited as one justification for blocking any plans to pedestrianise the main streets during the Summer. However rammed and uncomfortable they get, with full to bursting pavements you can hardly walk on, this is not seen as a deterrent. No one appears to consider that a pedestrianised street with no event on might be an entirely different experience to one with an event. Nor what other opportunities there might be, to to say move the regular weekly market down into the High Street, freeing up car parking space, or hosting Sunday Craft Fairs, Farmers Markets etc etc. Sometimes local conservatism can feel somewhat stifling of energy and creativity.
Other North Norfolk towns have got used to their main streets descending into semi-hibernation in the Winter once the tourists depart. Sheringham,however, has an high street regularly used by the local people through out the year.This liveliness is one of the reasons we chose to move here. So I can understand the desire to not upset the apple cart, however precarious it might already be. Particularly in this prolonged pre-Brexit limbo, where the consequences for 'Just About Managing' shops is unknown. The future prospects for Sheringham's shopping centre longer term may not actually be that vibrant and the case for pedestrianising its main street may yet arrive at its day of inevitability.
Flower Festivals are an odd beast, are they a craft, an art or neither? The Japanese being a subtle aesthetically sensitive country were able to elevate it to an art. But looking at the exhibits in the Methodist Church the jury is firmly out here. Flower Festivals must have a theme, preferably vague, so they can be twisted to any indulgent fancy or delirious dream constructed around cardboard. This years theme 'Golden Moments' resulted in an impressive breadth of subject matter, from the RNLI, the birth of a baby, Eurovision, the Release of Nelson Mandela, to the creation of the Internet.
There appears to be only two ways to interpret a theme, to be slavishly literal or to fill it with leaden, and occasionally dubious, symbolism. The Mandela display was a case in point, it had no picture of Nelson, but it did have a generic African mask and a huge giraffe head made of papier mache. Another display, please note, assembled by the collective creativity of three people, was about saving refugees at sea. This was a series of rectangular blocks/ships of oasis pricked with gypsophila floating on a pale blue sea of badly rucked cloth. All very well meaning no doubt, but so clumsy in its execution as to teeter towards insensitivity or even insulting.
These attempts to inject profundity into the simple aesthetic of arranging flowers, betray a lack of confidence in the beauty or skill on show. Therefore there has to be about something else that is worthy of appreciation. Flower arrangements can be an astonishing thing of beautiful symmetry. Though the forms and shapes used often lack imagination or are repetitive or cliched. Why do flower displays have to rise to a mountainous peak of gladioli? I'm lead to believe that the world of church flower arranging has its semi-professionals who devise an arrangement for 2018, and then troll it around a circuit of church flower festivals, to anyone who'll have them. So there are Themes, variations on Themes and blatant Travesties of Themes.