12 Sep WHITE ELEPHANTS
England in the nineteen fifties, the war, for most, was a distant memory, the baby boom was under way and the children were growing up in a land full of hope and opportunity.
Compton Abdale village in the Cotswolds was a picturesque pastoral scene with a stream running through the centre and the population was mostly middle class. Most people very seldom left the village especially the older residents who didn’t really see the need to. The children played in the village or in the woods, a time of innocence and safety for all.
There were three boys Tom, Dick and Harry who were always together, getting up to mischief, having adventures but most of all growing up and learning about life truly an idyllic time for ten year olds.
The village council, comprised of Arthur the landlord of the village pub who always wore a trilby hat, Bob White a gentleman farmer who wore a bowler hat, Jean Williams the Post mistress who only wore a hat on Sundays and of course the new vicar. They held a meeting to decide what was to be the social calendar for the year. Obviously the religious celebrations were high on the agenda closely followed by the annual village fete.
Eager to make an impression and bring the village up to date, the new vicar proposed that the children of the village ran the different stalls and competitions this time, under supervision of course. After church one Sunday he announced that the list of children and to which stalls or events they would be allocated would be posted on the village notice board on Monday morning. There was great excitement the next day as a crowd gathered to see what had been arranged.
Tom Dick and Harry craned their necks to see what task they had been allocated ‘The White Elephant Stall’ they read with puzzlement.
“Are they having real white elephants?” said Tom.
Old Arthur the Landlord of the Village pub was quick to see the funny side of the situation.
“Yes boys every year the white elephants are sent to a different village fete and this year it’s our turn. It’s a very important job being in charge of ‘em”.
The word quickly spread around the village about the joke he was playing on the boys.
“You’ll need a stout stick each to keep them in order” said Jean the Post mistress.
“And a big bucket and shovel to clear up their mess” added Bob White.
Bursting with excitement Tom Dick and Harry headed for the woods and came back each carrying an elephant stick as they came to the vicarage the Vicar’s wife was in the garden.
“What have you got there? She asked.
Excited chatter came forth about the very important job of minding the White Elephants at the fete.
“Come in to the kitchen and have some orange squash, I have something to tell you” she said thoughtfully.
The boys emerged after about a quarter of an hour somewhat deflated but surprisingly up – beat.
The great day finally arrived and the entire population gathered on the village green Tom, Dick and Harry stood with their stout sticks, a large bucket and shovel also they had a big bag of currant buns supplied by Arthur to keep the animals fed.
The vicar made a long speech finally declaring the fete open. The door to the village hall was opened and everybody poured in they all turned to see the boys’ reactions. Tom, Dick and Harry stood in line next to a table covered in a white sheet.
“Ladies and gentlemen” said Tom “We would like to present the Compton Abdale White Elephants”.
Then the three of them lifted the sheet to reveal three hand-made white animals each one holding the previous ones’ tail. The best bit was that one had a trilby hat, the second had a bowler hat and the third had a best Sunday hat. They were all joined together, going round in an eternal circle.
The laughter began rising to a crescendo and applause broke out.
What could the committee do? They joined in and all shook the boys’ hands, the Vicars’ wife gave them the thumbs up sign. She had made the toys it was a hobby of hers.
The boys munched on Arthurs’ current buns and everybody grew up a bit more that day!
The Compton Abdale White Elephants still come out every year for the Village Fete, introduced by Tom – chairman of the committee and Landlord of the village Pub.
760 words Michael White 2020