Finally, after what seems like an eternity of preparation, today was the Much Wenlock Christmas Fayre.
Normally, in our house, this marks the start of Christmas. We go to the Fayre, drink some mulled wine, eat some mince pies, buy some presents, sing some carols, come home, put up the decorations, watch the movie “Elf”. Then, Christmas has begun.
But, somehow, this year, it hasn’t quite felt right. We did all the usual things. Except we missed the carols (more on this later). But most of the usual things. And yet, Christmas failed to ignite. With Christmas Spirit we were not filled.
So, I started to wonder why. What was different? What were we missing? Why had the magic failed to spark?
The big difference this year to recent years was that we had a stall at the Fayre. Jo had a stall for years. From when the Fayre first started. Before we even lived in Much Wenlock. But, for the past four years, she hasn’t. Our relationship with the Fayre has been based in Community. We go to the Fayre, primarily, to see people. Friends. We go to share the experience of an event with Friends.
Community. Friends. Sharing. These have been the defining elements of the Fayre for us.
This year, having a stall subtly altered our relationship with the Fayre. Yes, we still met lots of people. Lots of Friends. But, when you have a stall, you introduce a new element – Commerce. The point of having a stall is to sell stuff. You offer stuff for sale. People hopefully buy your stuff. Which means that it is no longer a shared experience. The experience of the merchant is different to the experience of the shopper. You are, in effect, in different Communities.
This was brought home to me as I manned our stall fairly late on in the day. Our stall was inside Priory Hall – a safe haven from the ferocious winds that battered the whole of the UK today. On the opposite side of the room from us was a man selling books. Specifically, he was selling a novel – an historical thriller. He worked very hard all day. He worked very hard at selling his books. He let no-one past his stall without asking them if they would like to buy the book. He had his patter. His set phrases. Which he repeated again and again and again to each and every passer-by. His patter was effective. He sold a lot of books. Lots of people i know left Priory Hall carrying one of his books.
But what he didn’t do at any point was to connect in any way with any of his customers. At no point in the day did he connect with anyone else as a human being. To him, it seemed, everyone was just a potential buyer. A potential means of income. He showed no interest in them as people.
In the course of the day, I went over and spoke to the other stall holders in the room. Asked them how they were doing, shared some stories, found shared experiences, made connections. Most of them were nice people. They were friendly. Happy to make those small connections.
The guy with the novels was different. When I went over, he said exactly the same rehearsed lines to me as I had heard him use to everybody else: “Can I interest you in buying a copy of this brand new historical thriller?”
Now, he knew full well that I had my own stall and had been standing opposite listening to him use that line all day. I smiled and told him that, No, I had no interest in buying his book. I was just wondering how he had done. Was he enjoying the day?
He could barely conceal his annoyance. His impatience to be rid of me. My idle chit chat was preventing him delivering his line to passing potential customers. He had one reason and one reason only for being here: to sell. Commerce. He had zero interest in Connecting with anybody here as one human being to another. Only in connecting as merchant to buyer.
Which is fair enough. We all have to earn a crust.
But it is also kind of sad. To spend a whole day missing opportunities to connect with other human beings. What a waste.
And we missed the carols because we were packing up our stall and loading our van. Which is significant because the carols are, for me, the climax of the Fayre. They come right at the end. When darkness has fallen. When the stalls have closed. Commerce has ended. The Time for Magic has begun. Everyone comes to the Town Square. A gathering together. To sing together. To share the experience. It was a sadness to have missed that.
Overall, I enjoyed the day. I saw lots of friends, some that I hadn’t seen for some time. Some of the meetings were brief. A few words. A passing wave and a smile. The important thing is that, even if they were only brief moments, they were moments of Connection. One human being to another. And, for me, the accumulation of those moments is the whole point of the day.
Our stall did well. We sold lots of stuff. Made some money. It was profitable. But, there was a price to pay….. The introduction of Commerce to the day altered its dynamic. Altered our relationship to the rest of the Community. We were here for different reasons. And there was now a tension between those two reasons for being there. And that tension was there within Jo and myself. There was now a conflict within us. We wanted to sell stuff but we still wanted to Connect with people. Hell, there’s even a conflict within what we are selling: My writing, Jo’s artwork, her shiatsu, my tai chi classes – they are all about Connecting. By trying to make a living from these things, charging for them, we introduce a tension that I find difficult.
At least Historical Novel Man kept it simple. Kept it about one thing. Maybe he has a point.
But, I just cannot do pure Commerce. Can’t see the point. Guess I am just going to have to learn to manage the tension better.
So, what is my gift to you today? What is behind the door?
A poem. One of my favourite poems and one that relates to what I have been writing about in this post.
Manifesto: The Mad Farmers Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.