You see, every year there is a village fete, where Lady Barton St Mary is expected to turn up and give out prizes to the villagers. Responsibilities have been extended this year with both of us being on the village fete committee, which is probably a good idea considering the event takes place on our outermost field.
So it was no surprise when Benfield entered the drawing room to announce there was a visitor from the council requesting entry at the gates. Reluctantly, I told Benfield to let him in.
A couple of minutes later, a bicycle ridden by a man with a comb over crunched its way up the gravel and stopped outside the east door. After a couple of minutes spent removing his bicycle clips and helmet and retrieving his clip board from a neat pannier bag, he made his way over to where we stood, in the stone arched entrance to the east wing.
“Hello, Davis Crowcock, Authorising Officer for Rurality Events,” was how he introduced himself, offering a rather damp and weak handshake. Lady Barton St Mary surveyed him carefully and returned her own introduction.
“I‘ve just come to ask you a few questions about the village fete ,” he continued, looking down at his clip board, “ just to make sure everything is in order from a health and safety point of view, so we can then issue a Pastoral Affirmation Events Declaration Order.”
Mr Crowcock sighed. “ An approval form for your village fete. We call them PAEDOs.”
One corner of Lady BSM’s mouth twitched slightly. I managed to stifle a cough. Benfield, with shoulders shaking, turned and made his way inside.
“ Is this all particularly necessary?” asked Lady Barton St Mary.
“Oh yes, it’s very important. We must ensure that all visitors and organisers are safe. The council is very keen that all country events have a PAEDO.”
“I see. Very well, Mr Crowcock, please continue.”
Mr Crowcock cleared his throat and started with his first question.
“Where will the fete be held?”
“Down in our field, it’s -,” I started.
“Grass field?” interrupted Crowcock.
“What happens if it rains?”
“The villagers get wet, or use umbrellas,” Lady BSM suggested.
Mr Crowcock winced.
“ In the event of rain, the hazard of slipping on wet grass is greatly increased. You’ll have to have a sign,” he said.
“What?” I exclaimed.
“ A sign. Something like ‘In the event of rain, beware of slippery surface.’ Of course, because this is a rural area, it would be somebody‘s responsibility to make sure the signs were removed during the hours of darkness. No street lights, you see. Tripping hazard.”
Lady BSM shot me a concerned look. Mr Crowcocks was writing something on his clipboard.
“Now, tell me about the events you have planned for the day.”
“Well there’s a tea and cakes stall run by the WI. The cricket pavilion will open the bar at lunchtime. There will be a fancy dress competition for children and an egg and spoon race at 3pm. I will be judging the best vegetables grown at about 4pm.”
Mr Crowcock didn’t speak for a couple of minutes, but kept his head down, furiously scribbling notes.
“ Thank you, your ladyship,” he finally said.
“Now, in order to issue you with a PAEDO, I’ll require you to ensure the following. All WI members who serve tea and cakes will need a Food Safety & Hygiene Certificate as well as having to wear lightweight latex gloves and paper hats. Also, all hot beverages will have to be served in containers with “Care – may contain hot liquids” printed on the side.
Obviously, the bar is not a problem, but access for all disabled people – although I personally prefer the term alternatively abled person – must be constructed, along with 4 car parking bays being marked directly in front of the pavilion.
Now. Fancy dress. It’s imperative that all the children are wearing non flammable materials and are representative of all members of society without prejudice or stereotyping. Current council guidelines also insist that every fancy dress competition involves at least one individual dressed as Nelson Mandela in a tribute to his 94th birthday.
The egg and spoon race will be of great concern. There must be a trained first aider available in case the competitor falls and jams a spoon in their eye. Also, we have found that competitive sports cause more injuries, so it would be best if the children all run individually in a time trial wearing a safety council approved cycle helmet. Naturally, the eggs have to be hard boiled, free range and organic.
The vegetables can only be displayed once they have been subject to temperatures of 110 degrees centigrade to remove any danger posed by e-coli, salmonella or other harmful viruses.”
“ I suppose the crockery smashing stall and the quad bike rides are a bit of a no no then,” I surmised, giving him a hopeful smile.
He turned slightly pale and murmured something about safety glasses, gloves and a specially built booth.
“Isn’t this all a bit – silly?” said Lady Barton St Mary.
Mr Crowcock’s eyes widened.
“ I assure you, madam, there is nothing silly about health and safety. I’m afraid that if you cannot comply with all of these demands, a PAEDO is out of the question.”
Lady BSM reached out and touched him on the arm. Mr Crowcock froze. She held him with one of her intense, electrifying looks, her big blue eyes fixing his gaze.
“There’s no need for all of this, she said slowly, in her huskiest voice.
“I – you – we – the council – er…” he stuttered, staring into her eyes.
Lady BSM took another step forward and placed one hand on his cheek. The council official didn’t move a muscle, but continued to stare straight ahead. She leaned forward, smiling, and whispered gently into his ear.
“No, no. This is all silly. You don’t need to bother us again. Everything is in order. Say thank you to me,” she breathed. His comb over lifted slightly in the breeze, like the flicking of a cat’s tail.
As she stepped back, the statue of Mr Crowcock continued to gaze, his mouth slack.
He looked down at his clipboard, signed the form and handed it over to her.
“I’ve no need to bother you again,” he said, eventually, “ everything is in order. Thank you, your ladyship.”
“ Not at all, Mr Crowcock. Have a safe journey.”
The local authority representative turned on his heel and made his way back to his bicycle, which was faithfully waiting for him on its stand.
Lady Barton St Mary looked at me and arched an eyebrow.
“How? What? Where did you learn – “
She waved her hand in my general direction.
“Oh, let’s just say there are some advantages to reading Stephenie Meyer when at the hairdressers,” she said.
As she passed me, she briefly stroked my forearm, smiling wickedly.
“I must say, it works awfully well on you..”
Swallowing hard, I followed her back indoors, where I found her on the internal telephone.
“Hello, Parslow? Yes. Mr Crowcock is leaving. Release the hounds, please, would you?…”