I am wary of festivals. It took the overwhelming greatness of Glasto to finally win me over. The reason: the horrors of harvest festival as a child at school. The idea behind harvest festival I assume was to celebrate our bountiful harvest and help out people less fortunate than ourselves. Unfortunately, living in a London suburb meant that there was not all that much in the way of bountiful harvesting going on. The alternative therefore was a cull from Mum’s cupboard of the tins of stuff she did not want. The last time I ever saw a tin of Heinz Kidney Soup it went on the Harvest Festival pile, along with a really manky tin of peas.
You would think that somewhere along the line there might be a real actual celebration. An sing-song, get-together style affair. Or even a pyramid made out of all these unwanted tins that we could worship at (wow, all that Cream Of Celery Soup in ONE PLACE). Perhaps we could mount said pyramid and make a ritual sacrifice of some first former five year old for another bountiful crop of tins of rubbish food for another year. But this “festive” part of the festival was skipped. Instead we went straight on to the redistribution part of the ceremony. Or what we liked to call “ungrateful Granny hell”.
Basically, in an act which would now be banned by the Data Protection Act, our school had a list of all the old folks in the area. We were sent out in pairs, with a number of cans from the booty, to redistribute to the old’uns. This, as you would imagine, is one of the most frightening things a seven year old child can do, as all unknown old people are clearly witches and warlocks. They also had a disdain for Ye Olde Oak Ham hot dog sausages and Creamed Corn which knew no bounds. The average encounter would start with a tentative knock on the door, followed by grumpy gummy granny asking sharply what we wanted. We would wave cans at her, and she would ask if we had anything more palatable that Crosse & Blackwell Tinned Spaghetti (I don’t want that foreign muck). Clearly we did not: not only that but our presence reminded the old lady she was old at which point she was likely to attack us about playing football in her cul de sac. Grateful was never a word I would ascribe to their responses. In many ways Harvest Festival was a kind of anti-trick-or-treating. We went round, giving grannies stuff they did not want. It was hell.
What was worse was when we got back to school they were always disappointed that we had not stuck around for a cup of tea to listen to them talk about the war. Oh, and the grannies would always phone in to complain that we were not courteous. No win situation = rubbish festival. Oh, to live in the countryside and have corn dollies…