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[personal profile] shewhomust
What do you write about an annual tradition? Every year is the same, every year is different. Yesterday was the wettest Gala I have ever attended, and the first when I have had any connection, however tenuous, to one of the bands.

[ profile] samarcand and family were in Durham with the NASUWT, so we gave them breakfast and then left home earlier than usual to join their banners, and their (very impressive) band; a brisk walk, hurrying to keep up, from the County Hospital to halfway up Silver Street, and then an hour or so waiting our turn to move off.

Music holder

We amused ourselves as best we could, wandering around taking pictures*, and eventually abandoned ship and made for the green hillside outside the prison which is our regular vantage point. While we were there, we were surveyed by a lady with a long and complicated questionnaire about the Brass Festival; [ profile] durham_rambler and I agreed to answer questions about the Gala if we could also give feedback about the previous event we had attended. We told her pretty much what I have already ranted about here, and felt better for having said it to the people concerned; this was much easier than answering the same questions about the Gala - "How did you hear about today's event?" (it's the Gala! it happens every year!) "What do you think of the venue?"... We took pleasure in answering "How could the event be improved?" with "Persuade the leader of the Labour Party to attend!" (I don't think the presence of Ed Milliband would increase my enjoyment of the Big Meeting, but it might be good for him).

Then down to the Racecourse for the speeches. This isn't solid statistical evidence of anything, but I had the impression that there were an awful lot of people there, and that more of them than usual had large quantities of alcohol with them; family groups had great multipacks of beer, and there were cans and bottles everywhere. There's always plenty of drinking at the Big Meeting, but I wonder whether more of it this year was off-sales, and less in pubs. The crowds outside the pubs and clubs were less noticeable, but the weather may have had something to do with that.

The first time it started to rain, I wasn't much bothered by it: there was a shower, it stopped, the sun came out, I dried off (and my annual treat of chips and curry sauce also helped me warm up!). It was less of an annoyance than the very noisy amplification, which made even the best speakers hard to listen to. The second time it rained, the rain was heavier and lasted longer. I was drenched and didn't have time to dry off before it started again. We took refuge in one of the tents, but emerged in time to hear a brief and touching speech from one of the rescued Chilean miners (the BBC names the two men present as Carlos Barrios Contrera and Carlos Bugueno Alfara; we heard one man speak and one translate, but I didn't get the names), and later to hear Kathryn Tickell play, and then introduce the Trimdon Concert Brass Band who played the piece she had written for them, Bobby Shaftoe in Trimdon.

By which time I was desperate for caffeine, and we fought our way through the crowds to the café on Elvet Bridge to which [ profile] weegoddess had introduced me, and had coffee and red velvet fudge cake.

*I'm not good at photographing people and crowds. In the end I decided that only three of yesterday's photos were worth posting to Flickr: the one posted above, one of Kathryn Tickell which works because having so many pixels to play with allows ruthless cropping and still leaves a reasonable sized image, and a sunflower in a garden we passed on the way home.

Date: 2011-07-10 05:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well, I suppose these events are a bit like solstices and christmasses "How did you hear about today's event?" (it's the Gala! it happens every year!) but still take place just once a year? I love his Christmas Not Just Once A Year short story with the mechanic angels whispering "Frieden, Frieden" (Peace, Peace) all year round...

I quite like that kind of tradition (not necessarily accompanied by mecanical angels, I´d take more real ones just for a change
In a way one knows exactly what to expect which gives it that childhood feeling of delightful expectation and then ditto repetition and there is often something touchingly human and down-to-earth about local feasts: people in homemade costumes, schoolbands in uniform, that kind of thing.

Indeed, your local labour leader does not seem to have hired a very good press person if he has not yet gathered it necessary to attend. (Of course, a labour leader need not come out of other reasons to take part of a Miner´s Gala, does he now?) He could have had a ball at the gala having his photograph taken with the rescued chilenan miners, maybe adding some miners´children whose heads he might have kissed photogenially.

The Beer Can Situation you describe immediately reminds me of Midsommar (summer solstice) in Sweden. In my childhood it was still a feast for kids and their parents with folk dances around the Midsommarstång (may pole) but nowadays it seems mostly to be about everyone getting drunk, including the kids. I still find it lovely, though (the feast;) and will go back to Stockholm and take a steamship to one of the archipelago islands where people dance on the landing-stages in the light summer night.

I also think, I prefer your pictures to the imaginary ones of your local labour leader!

Date: 2011-07-11 08:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You are absolutely right about the parallels with Christmas and Midsummer - though the drink is a very traditional part of this day, which started as a day's holiday for the miners and their families, back in the nineteenth century (when a working class day out was in itself a political act).

But when I say 'the leader of the Labour Party' I mean the leader of the (national) Labour Party, the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. Up to Tony Blair, the leader of the Labour Party always spoke at the Gala, and when he (always 'he') was Prime Minister, well, then the Prime Minister spoke. Tony Blair was the first to decide that this wasn't the sort of event he wanted to be associated with (despite being a Co. Durham MP); we hoped that Ed Milliband would be a different kind of leader. Apparently not.

Date: 2011-07-11 08:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, dear, I embarrassingly mixed up the origins of your labour leaders, there...but the important point is exactly that one for me too, whatever country it may be about: that politicians strangely seem to wonder why the people who elected them (often for want of better alternatives) do not feel represented by them.
I need to be able to respect someone for that, regardless of party or status (kings&queens or premieres as state heads, I don´t care: if they actually do...) even if not sharing their opinions or supporting their status.
Like in Sweden when many swedes had lost family and friends at the Thai tsunami the only person who found some words to address the mourning public was the king, big a fool as he might be otherwise. All the politicians including socialdemocrats found important, was blaming each other for mal-managing the crisis. And still most swedes are socialists (because Sweden used to be very poor), to this day. They deserve better than the sort they get, nowadays, especially the elder generation who brought their country welfare by working mines, for instance.

It starts small, as with a labour leader not attending an event like that and ends with them not being able to defend the country of the people who elected them for better or worse, against banksters et al, because all they care about is themselves: money, position, etc.
However, this has proved fatal in some arabic countries and eventually does everywhere, by simple causality.

Date: 2011-07-10 10:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This post made me squee so frequently that I had to read it to a very curious Jonathan. I love love love that you went to the Cafe Continental (and happy to hear that it's still there). Whenever I went in there, I wanted to order the large cappuccino (i.e. BOWL of it) because Jonathan was known for ordering it whenever he went in there for lunch.

And you talked about Silver Street and the green near the prison! And the fact that it actually rained; I suspect they ran out of virgins to sacrifice to the weather gods this year. ;-)

I love that there was a question put to you of 'and how did you hear of this event?'. Like you hadn't been attending it for decades. J and I would have had to answer, 'oh, we saw a brass band parading past our bedroom window and followed it...'

I miss you guys and I miss Durham. It's going to be so very nice to visit in December.

Date: 2011-07-11 08:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Glad you like.

I was so pleased that, thanks to you, I knew the nearest place to get a decent cup of coffee (and red velvet fudge cake, which I don't think I've ever tasted before), and that we could enjoy it as the bands marched back over Elvet Bridge to the Cathedral.

As for 'how we heard of this event', [ profile] durham_rambler's reply began "Well, in 1972..."

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