Tuesday, 8 September 2009

All the fun of the fair!

Yesterday we went to St Giles Fair. A strange Oxford tradition which is equally attractive and repellant!Since the nineteenth century, St Giles' Fair has been held on the Monday and Tuesday following the first Sunday after St Giles' Day (1 September).This year the Fair is being held on 7 & 8 September.
It's a strange phenomenon. I don't know how many other fairs start with a service of blessing!

I think the person who best described it, is the wonderful Jan Morris.

It is the most boisterous of Oxford traditions, the profits of which go partly to the city and partly to the college of St John's, the local landowner; and it brings together in an atmosphere of unnatural intensity every type and kind of Oxford citizen. The academics go with their burbling children, eating iced lollipops and arguing the toss with indulgent showmen in piping cultured accents. The factory families go, trailing balloons and sweet papers, and hugging flowery vases they have won at shooting galleries. The farmers go, stumping stoically through the hubbub with kind wives in blue hats. The aldermen go — in 1950 Alderman Smewin officially complained to the City Council that there had been only one set of Galloping Horses to ride on. The parish clergy go, from a sense of boyish duty, and the weedy louts go, to stand around in bow-legged moronic cliques, licking candy floss, and the shop-girls go, to let their skirts fly on the Big Dipper. Every degree is represented there, from the exquisite patrician to the grubbiest slut in carpet slippers: and flushed from their normal habitats like this, thrown together between the Bingo stalls and the Man-Eating Rat, they always seem to me larger, finer or more awful than life. George's Café feels genially blended: but St Giles's Fair is like a city with its masks torn off, seen with a flushed clarity, and it makes you wonder how such contrasts can ever be reconciled. It is sure to end, you feel, like all the worst dreams, in a scream, a cold sweat or a blackout.

Oxford, however, is old, and experienced at the game. By Wednesday morning all those stalls and roundabouts have miraculously disappeared, and the scholars, the charge-hands, the oafs and the parsons are restored to their blurred and unalarming selves.

Of course, with the general tackiness of the rides and the extortionate prices, it seems appropriate that St Giles is the patron Saint of beggars and thieves!

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