Some of my readers will know that I try to support a charity working in Tanzania, EdUKaid. I have regularly done some fundraising at my (now ex-) workplace, but decided this year to bring my offerings to a wider audience. I applied for, and – somewhat to my surprise – was given a pitch at Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge on 5 December.
This event, started in 2005 (and not, as some enthusiasts seem to believe, hundreds of years ago) by a heroic group of volunteers, is a community festival focusing on the wonderful diversity of the road which now stretches from Parker’s Piece (where the rules of football were hammered out before adoption by the Football Association in 1863, and Jack Hobbs played cricket) to Brooks Road (where there is indeed a brook). The eponymous mill, then in the countryside, stood at the corner of Mill Road and Covent Garden, on the site which is now the Salvation Army shop and was previously the first cinema in Cambridge (opened in 1913). Mill Road is also home to one of the great Victorian cemeteries of Cambridge.
Having got the gig, as it were, I had to ramp up my output somewhat, with the result that Hedgehog Towers was until Friday knee-deep in scraps of wool and felt and boxes of Stuff. (In the same way, in late spring the house is difficult to negotiate because of plant trays, the broad acres and glasshouses of the Hedgehog Estate being inadequate for the greenery being grown on for the Great Plant Giveaway (also in aid of EdUKaid) in Chelsea week.)
I also had to ponder the equipment necessary for an outside pitch in December, and after a rush of blood to the head I have become the proud owner of a folding table and a jolly red gazebo. My archaeologist friend Michelle, who is very good at this sort of thing gave me a practice run in getting them both up; luckily I remembered how to do it, as calling her back from Canada for assistance on the day might have been a bit impractical. I also acquired and made up a bunting kit. Oh, and I prayed for not necessarily good but at least passable weather.
Yes, the weather: we were luckily spared the rain which has led to appalling flooding in the northwest, but the wind was, shall I say, challenging. The stakes pinning the gazebo down were not going to be enough, but luckily Him Indoors had one of his great strokes of brilliance (they come every decade or so), and brought round the weights from a gym press-bench which has sat unused in the house since the offspring decamped some years ago. These worked fantastically, and kept us more or less upright while gazebos all around were taking off (or being taken down).
Thanks to the help of kind friends who were prepared to go forth into the gale when it was barely light, we had the gazebo up (and fastened down) by about 8.30 a.m.
Because I had asked for a pitch on Donkey’s Common, we were a bit away from the centre of things, and thus missed exciting sights such as the Mayor of Cambridge opening the fair dressed as a Roman emperor with his own Praetorian Guard, but almost everyone approaching Mill Road from the town centre had to walk past us, and we did a brisk trade in Christmas decorations and larger knitted items.
My lovely and tireless assistant Christina kept assuring people that everything was hand-made: I was not convinced that (my crafting skills being what they are) this was necessarily a good recommendation, but it seemed to work OK. The only things that did not go well were the silvered pine cones – I am open to offers!
The wind got even worse (inevitably) as the sun went down, so we decided to pack up our tent and steal away before our luck ran out and the gazebo ran away. Once at home, sparkling drink was consumed as we counted the money (a gratifying amount!) for EdUKaid and mulled over lessons learned for next year, viz.: (1) Make more hedgehogs: we sold out rapidly, especially after Christina arranged them peering appealingly out of the box at passers-by;
(2) Make more Christmas wreaths: this year’s stock was sold before we actually got them on display; (3) On occasions like this, you can never have too many safety pins.
Oh, and thanks to the kind couple from London who brought us hot drinks and food at lunchtime! (Needless to say, Cambridge today is warm and windless …)