Nothing fancy for me
Jan Etherington gives a dressing down to dressing up
Jan Etherington is off to the village fete, but she’s leaving the funny costume at home
IT’S AUGUST! School’s out and we all go barmy, with bunting and bouncy castles. Yes, my village fete is on August Bank Holiday Saturday and this year’s theme is ‘We Are Sailing’. Great idea, for a coastal village - but then, an edict went out from the fete committee suggesting not just stall holders but villagers should wear ‘nautical’ fancy dress, to reflect the ‘theme’.
Immediately, I had a flashback to my particularly awkward, pre-teen years. My stomach churned, my cheeks flushed scarlet. Please don’t ask me to talk about it. Oh, alright, if you insist.
It was the end of term and some deranged teacher decided it would be ‘fun’ to hold a fancy dress competition. She chose a seaside theme (hence my traumatic déjà vu). I ringed the date in my Jackie diary and added ‘DO’. I told my mum, (who read my diary, as all mums do) that I was making a list of things To Do. It actually meant Day Off. I knew I could rustle up a convincing stomach ache over breakfast and with any luck, Mum and Dad wouldn’t be any the wiser.
Unfortunately, the school sent A Note to Parents and my dad, who loved both a pun and a challenge, came up with what he thought was a brilliant and hilarious fancy dress for me. He cut out a sandwich board, in the shape of a passenger ship, popped it over my head, handed me my ballet tutu and a wand, and told me I was going as the Cross Channel Fairy.
Had there been a Childline, then, I would have speeddialled them. I refused point blank, until he offered me a substantial hike in pocket money, and I won first prize.
I still hated fancy dress but I didn’t want to pass my phobia onto my children, so when my son said they were having a ‘Jurassic Park’ theme day, I ran him up a dinosaur costume. It was a snug fit (I only had one green curtain). As he shuffled, gamely, towards the school gates, I watched proudly and observed to one mother, “I hope everyone’s made as much effort.” “For what?” she said. “Jurassic Park day.” “Oh, that’s tomorrow…”
As he discovered - “I had to be a dinosaur all day!” - the trouble with fancy dress is that you have to stay in it, until the event is over. One of my boyfriends decided we would go to a party as a formation dancing duo. Not totally embarrassing, I decided. I wore a big frock, he, a black tie. But then he said: “Wouldn’t it be fun if we Selotaped our hands together, so we have to do everything as a pair?” What could possibly go wrong? First trip to the loo, for a start. I thought, later, he was showing early signs of a bondage fetish but he grew up to be a paramedic, so that’s alright, then.
Some people love fancy dress so much, they wear it to work. I recoil from ‘re-enactors’, those folk who pretend to be someone from the past. Visit many historic sites and you can’t fail to be accosted by a hoop-skirted ‘Lady’ or a medieval knight (probably a motor mechanic from Essex) demanding: “Prithee! Who goes there?” There’s always lots of ‘prithees’. Some re-enactors are delusional. I was once trapped in the kitchen of a stately home, by a mop-capped double for Mrs Patmore, in Downton Abbey, who insisted that she was preparing roast swan with turnips for Henry VIII.
My sister has a ‘fancy dress’ wardrobe and zips up her shiny, ‘Agnetha from Abba’ jumpsuit for most family parties. She was thrilled when her golf club dinner had a western theme. She went as Annie Oakley, with sticky-out plaits and blackened front teeth. First on stage, for the karaoke, she slapped her thigh and launched into ‘I’m just a gal who cain’t say no…!’, and an impromptu, galloping dance routine. Cantering offstage, she expected to be congratulated by her husband, only to be told: “Tony just rolled his eyes and said he’s getting a taxi home.”
She’s coming to the fete as a mermaid (Abba jumpsuit, with a tail attached) and many of my fellow villagers can’t wait to strut about, as Captain Hook or Billy Budd. I shall simply nod to the theme, in a stripey top and bellbottoms. And don’t ask me to put a parrot on my shoulder.
Above: The Walberswick Village Fete, this year on Saturday, August 26, from 1pm