Perfect Day

Yesterday was Tynwald day, our national day, and I spent it (rather oddly) at the heart of all that’s worst about the nation doing something productive and enjoyable. On a field immediately behind the outdoor ceremony itself, to be precise, along with the greens, the evangelicals and the evangelical greens. It was like some bizarre Channel 4 documentary about a WI outing to Glastonbury, with slightly less mud.

As I do every Tynwald Day, I was on the stall for the local Amnesty group raising awareness of something awful, and trying to do something about it. This year was slightly different, in that we’re working on campaigns to do with sexual and reproductive rights for young girls and women and – as the island’s lack of legal facilities for abortion leaves a lot to be desired – helping women to campaign over that too.

All this was happening in what’s known as the Global Village, which started as an area for overseas aid charities and others running similar projects and in five years has developed into something pleasant. The first year, despite the odd collection of groups, was all very friendly with world music and food being shared, people popping over to and helping out with each other’s stalls, and so on. Each year since has had a slightly different collection of groups and events, as the most blatant moneygrubbers head for the main field instead but new groups discover us and come to join in.

It all ended on a positive note, with a sort of conga headed by Bulgarian dancers winding around the performing stage, picking up folk ranging from Africans to Manx folk dancers, old, young, and everything in between – the nearest thing yet to a rainbow coalition of what this place could be with a little more effort and good feeling.

BUT…..as the global village has developed, an increasing number of evangelical parasites have joined in, and I have to say lower the tone of the whole event. The danger is that they give the false impression that Christian charity is at the heart of the whole idea, when nothing could be further from the truth.

In the spirit of inclusiveness, I try to offer the hand of friendship as they fester and conspire in corners, arrayed in their drab Saturday casuals, prominent pictorial displays of their fake philanthropy surrounded by collecting buckets, glowering out at anything different in the world like so many relatives from hell at a wedding.

BUT… this year one crossed the line. I noticed the Baptists at the next stall muttering with their pro-life friends in the morning, before anything really got going. As requested by the organisers, we’d toned down the abortion reform material to discreet leaflets, so there seemed nothing to worry or complain about.

Then a workmate passing by laughingly remarked that, while punting for his spare change, they’d urged his family to boycott us. I thought he was winding me up, and I laughed back.

Then, a while later, one passer by made a point of walking away from their stall and prominently dropping notes into our collecting tin. Again, I thought nothing of it.

Then later, they hailed an Amnesty-supporting clergyman, and as he walked over to greet them, I distinctly heard one tell him he should be working for them, not us. Again, I passed it off as the sort of banter women on adjoining stalls might trade at a church fundraiser, and still thought nothing of it.

But then, on the way home, my wife – who knows some of them from a church where she helps with a (badly run) soup kitchen – mentioned that they’d said the same thing to her – and that they meant it absolutely seriously.

What a bunch of sad sacks. And what an advertisement for all that the best on this island are trying to get away from.

But the funniest thing is that the global village also now has a rigidly enforced class (or is it caste) system. This year some local premier league “pressure groups” deigned to join us plebs for the first time. For some reason this was regarded as a coup – or even a step forward – though it’s hard to see why.

Some of them annoy the general public more than all us little projects put together. Perhaps because, with their close links to government and numerous members with enough time and obsessive zeal to churn out pages of free waffle for the papers, the public cannot help but know they exist.

It was noticeable too that they had their own chi-chi avenue, closer to the main field, from which real people were excluded. But the bigger problem would have been that any innocent passer-by wandering down to avoid the diesel fumes, mass folk dancing and military kitsch would take one look at this row of wibble merchants, turn straight around and rush off home instead of exploring further.

Or maybe it worked in reverse. The public may have been in such a rush to get past without being nagged into a coma that they found themselves, unexpectedly, in new and interesting territory instead.

Because we did attract a slightly better crowd than usual, though this was due to a combination of good weather and duller than usual mainstream attractions on the “proper” fair field. This year I was kept so busy that I didn’t leave the stall in seven hours – not even long enough to peek at other stalls in our little sink estate.

I’m not complaining though. I had a productive and useful day, engaged with a lot of people, and maybe even caused some to consider a new topic. I also came home with at least a week’s supply of heavily rum-laced chocolate cake from one Jamaican food vendor and fruit pies from a more traditional Manx stall, both donated by well-wishers.

All in all then, a great day, in spite of the efforts of the professionals.

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