Big Lunch

“The British drew their reasons to make merry from the many sources which had influence on these islands: the cultures of the Celts, the Romans, the Norse and the Normans, as well as creating a few of their own.

Looking back on the revels of the past brings a suspicion that we may have lost the art of having fun. However village fetes still survive as a means of fund raising for various charities…"

FAIRS AND REVELS” — Brian Jewell 1976

When we’re far from home and someone asks where we’re from, we usual reply ‘London’. When pushed we might refine our answer to ‘West London’ but what we really want to say is ‘St Margarets’, because that is where we’re from. We may be Londoners by definition but in our hearts we see ourselves as villagers. St Margarets is the village in which we live and it is in its streets that we celebrate our existence – and there’s been a lot of that going on recently.

Two weeks ago we had the St Margarets Fair, 32 years old and still pulling in the crowds and then last weekend, street parties. One took place in North St Margarets. Driven by no other reason than to have some fun, get together with old neighbours and welcome in the new ones, the local Residents Association (NSMRA) and the congregation of the neighbourhood church, All Souls, had a “Big Lunch” Street Party, one of a number held that day across Britain. Although these “Big Lunch” street parties were promoted by the Eden Project as a way of fostering neighbourliness, I suspect that we needed very little encouragement to get involved. Street parties are something that we do instinctively. We’ve been holding them since villages first joined together to form towns and cities. Royal Jubilees, Armistices¸ Coronations, Royal Weddings – whatever the excuse we’re genetically hardwired to block off the road, wheel out some tables and chairs, slap on some music and then sit down in the middle of it all to share food and drink with the people from next door – and that is exactly what happened on the corner of Haliburton and Northcote Road last Sunday. The gentry may have their ballrooms and grand halls in which to hold their festivities but working people traditionally hold their ‘knees-up’ in the street – a custom that the middle class has taken up with enthusiasm.

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Of course the heavy hand of bureaucracy has descended in recent years – and now we have to have licenses and permissions and approvals – but for all that the form of the street party is always the same…

  1. Close the street
  2. Put out tables and chairs
  3. Add bunting if you’ve got it
  4. Sit down with your friends to eat and drink

There are some possible variables to decide on – Children’s fancy dress parade? Live music? Karaoke? A raffle? Tombola? – but essentially the format remains the same. Go to one street party and you’ve been to them all. That is their appeal. Familiar rituals and observances unite people and make them feel at home wherever they are.

There was another street party in Twickenham (or South St Margarets as we like to call it) last weekend when the good people of Court Way held their annual bash – something that they have been doing since 2002 when they celebrated the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. The moment the barriers were up Court Way became a children’s playground, a dance floor, a skating rink and a football pitch. Bands played, there was a bouncy castle and neighbours danced the conga – a dance style that is supposed to have disappeared with Liberty Bodices, the “Penny Chew” and Mantovani. And when the sun went down, so did the bunting. All over the country empty streets, partied out, returned to normal. The children were in bed dreaming of hopscotch and picnics on the pavement and their elders were asking themselves if they should do it all again next year. Yeah! Why not?

“Fairs and revels, highdays and holidays, every citizen still has the right to enjoy these simple pleasures – just so long as he can appreciate that behind…the amplified pop music, the hot dog and candy-floss stalls, on his own doorstep exists a living, breathing example of the medieval past.”

Brenda Kidman — “The Changing Face of the Fair

The Railway children

Of course to be absolutely honest St Margarets was never a village despite what the estate agents try to tell us. The vast expanse of Hounslow Heath upon which we live had and has many villages – but St Margarets was never one of them. 200 years ago we didn’t exist. St Margarets was just a solitary country house sitting by the river in open parkland. We only came into being in the late 1840’s when the railway arrived and the local residents, exhausted by the thought of having to walk to Richmond or Twickenham to catch a train, demanded a station. When they got one they had to give it a name, so they called it St Margarets. We are not villagers, we are Railway Children.

(Personally I would have gone for the name “Mesopotamia”. It means “land between the rivers” – which, caught between the Thames and the Crane, is exactly what we are. It might have worked wonders for house prices.)

See a slideshow of the Big Lunch on flickr

— from Martyn Day