It is that street party time of year again…the end of July, sunshine and blue skies… except when it’s rainy and cloudy.
So this Sunday, I woke full of hope. We have been organising street parties for 5 years now and have had mixed weather success. But I opened my eyes last Sunday to sunshine streaming through the slots in the blinds. The sky was cloudless…
By 10 am the road was dutifully cleared of parked cars, by 11.30 it was closed.
Children immediately started filling the empty street.
There is something incredibly freeing about running up and down somewhere that is usually out of bounds, about kicking a ball straight down the middle of a usually busy street, about drawing on ground usually only overrun with moving tyres – and that’s for adults as well as children.This year our street party was in memory of our friend Sheila who usually serves the teas from our front garden and is famous for getting the words to God Save the Queen wrong in Jubilee year.
She died so suddenly and left our road so much emptier, even on its busiest days, that we almost considered cancelling the street party.
Her energy and good humour were always such an integral part of the day.
But her long time neighbour and best friend, and her son and daughter, assured us that she would have wanted the party to go on….and so it did.
Bunting was strung across the road, tables appeared and began to be filled with food, raffle prizes arrived on our doorstep, Ninesh set up the speakers and the road was filled with music.
The children skipped and scooted and ran and cycled and chalked ….and at 3pm, just as the party was due to start and everyone was arriving, the heavens opened and the rain began to pour.
But we are not fair weather street-partiers.. umbrellas were fetched, rain coats donned and while I tried to fathom the best way to keep the food dry, the children solved the problem. Obviously when it rains, tables are for sitting under not at.
I looked up at the sky and wondered if somewhere up there, Sheila was laughing at us. “You knew it was our street party today,” I whispered, ” couldn’t you have sorted the weather?”
And just then, her son Ben arrived.
Ben is living in Sheila’s house now. Which seems right somehow.
” Mum’s got a gazebo in her shed,” he said, ” shall I get it?”
The rain changed from gently streaming to torrential, the food was almost swimming away.
” I think that would be a great idea,” I said.
And in an instant he was back carrying a bag of poles and cloth.
I would like to say that we had it up and covering the food in no time but that would not be completely true.
By then the party had been joined by our neighbour’s slightly drunk French family who were shouting out instructions in French. The rest of of us had been indulging in some extremely alcoholic marmalade jelly and probably wouldn’t have understood properly, even if the instructions had been in English.
Every time we joined a pole to a corner, the poles in 2 other corners fell out. There appeared to be more corners than sides and the material seemed to be a different shape from anything we were creating.
But at last it was done.
Sheila’s gazebo was covering the food and most of the inhabitants of our road. We huddled together drinking, eating and laughing at the craziness of “les Anglais.” Old neighbours, new neighbours, friends from other streets. There was something about being in a tiny, dry space that wrapped itself like a blanket of friendship around us.
At the edge of our gazebo island the rain continued to pour. Children raced through the gutter in their once-white socks and competed with each other to make the biggest splash.
And by the time Ben and his sister pulled out the winning raffle tickets, it felt like what we had created was not a street party but a community.”
“What did you like about it,” a local freelance journalist asked one of the children as they sped their bike through a puddle. ” Everything,” he shouted as he slithered past.
And that just about sums it up.
If it hadn’t been for the rain and Sheila’s gazebo, the party would have been more spread out, less cosy, less friendly
Sheila’s gazebo saved the day and made the party one of the best yet.
And a little part of me, can’t help thinking she did it on purpose!