Report written after the garden fete celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of the Royal Masonic Hospital, Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith in 1993. It became the Ravenscourt Hospital in 2002 and closed in 2006.
One fundraising custom destined never to die in the English summer calendar is the garden fete. Every Saturday afternoon from May to September a vicarage lawn, village green or municipal park somewhere will be strewn with stalls manned by legions of dedicated community stalwarts, come rain or shine and the odds are it will invariably be the former.
Last weekend it was the turn of the Royal Masonic Hospital who were celebrating their Diamond Jubilee. Blue and white banners proclaiming ’60 Glorious Years’ stretched across every available railing left no doubt that this was to be a very grand affair, to be opened by a suitably famous celebrity, Ian McShane, alias ‘Lovejoy’ the TV rogue antique dealer. I decided to go to the opening.
The weather forecast was not good. As I trod the sodden turf the clouds opened yet again. Pink and white striped awnings clung miserably to their stands; clusters of multi-coloured umbrellas hovered under dripping trees while a few of the brave camped infront of the podium.
In the midst of the downpour, a muffled loudspeaker announced the opening would be postponed until the rain stopped as they did not want the VIP party to get wet. Never mind the loyal punters, I thought. Still this was the kind of act of faith in the future that kept the carnival spirit alive up and down the land. Fifteen minutes later the same disembodied voice decided it was only fair on we common mortals who had endured so much if the VIPs set aside their discomfort and the opening would go ahead. A sea of umbrellas descended on the podium.
This was a dismal structure for such an auspicious occasion. Four iron girders covered in graffiti supported a wooden platform reached by a precarious stepladder. The whole edifice looked more like a scaffold than a ceremonial dais. Still, things were happening.
A lady wearing a floral patterned dress and supporting a black straw boater and balancing on gilt edged shoes was arranging champagne glasses in a circle around the ice bucket on a small table. An elderly dignitary was negotiating the ladder with the aid of a walking stick. A tall thin man in a grey suit appeared clutching a sheaf of papers in one hand while trying to keep his immaculate blow-dried hair in place with the other. The Lady Mayoress wearing her official chain which seemed to take up two thirds of her own size was grappling with the microphone. She began her speech but her voice was not strong and her words were carried away on the wind. An inquisitive corgi began sniffing some green tarpaulins under the platform. Was he about to create a diversion? But no, he thought better of it and disappeared back into the throng. Then a voice exploded in my left ear. “Oh there he is! Isn’t he lovely Eadie! Oh he is lovely!”
Here was the man they had all been waiting for. As “Lovejoy” declared everything open and the champagne corks popped, as if on cue, the sun came out!
“Lovejoy” descended into the crowd accompanied by a heavyweight, bald headed Kojak figure and, with fans and entourage in tow, began his tour of the attractions. Only the lady in the black straw hat was left behind, wiping the mascara off her cheek.
The first port of call were the nurses who were in the Guiness Book of Records as the fastest bedmakers. Then the ‘Home Produce” where the flapjacks, fairy cakes and sausage rolls had dwindled to all but a handful. Then to “Win a Fiat” competition and Punch and Judy where two minutes to curtain up, small children were gathered for the traditional showdown.
The merry-go-rounds were revolving, the hamburger and ice-cream stalls were doing big business. There was a queue for the tombola and dozens of helium balloons at the ready for a spectacular launch. A Pearly King and Queen had arrived and at the far corner of the green two girls were striding across the grass on stilts. The sun was shining but black clouds were looming. No one noticed. Merrie Englande was once again in full swing.