At that time I was not a member of the NCA and had not really given a great deal of thought as to how the Fayre happened every year. I agreed to help and thought that that would probably involve being on a committee with other people who knew far more about it than I did.
I was therefore quite surprised at my first meeting with the NCA to discover that I was now the Fayre Secretary and the committee I thought I was joining was… me.
Fortunately my two predecessors, Pauline Pearce and Nora Lestrange, were an invaluable source of help and advice and I struggled through my first Fayre the following August.
Of course, I will offer all the support I can to whoever takes up this challenging but immensely enjoyable role.
I am told that at the first Fayre, 40 years ago, 27 cars turned up. This year we had three carparks and an estimated 10,000 visitors.
As ever the stewards and helpers on Fayre day were tremendous as were the volunteers who help with bunting, marking out, putting up posters and all the other jobs that need to be done. It has been a privilege to work with them all.
We have had some deluges, but people on the whole retain their good humour and composure. After all, rain is something we know all about in England.
By 5.30am I am in the Market Place as the first stallholders start to arrive. Some come from as far away as Yorkshire. They have all been allocated a pitch, sent a map showing exactly where their pitch and given a parking pass.
Invariably, there are some people who leave all these things at home and cannot remember their pitch number. They have to be helped. The vast majority, however, – some of whom have been coming for more that 30 years -, know the drill and get on with setting up quietly and efficiently.
Getting the cars and vans out of the way as quickly as possible is the main priority at this stage and, with a bit of patience and give and take, 140 stalls are set up and ready for business before the official opening at 10am.
About an hour into my first fayre a woman came up to me and asked if I was the Fayre Secretary. When I admitted that I was, she told me that her dog had been sick in Horn Street. Would I please go and clear it up. I did so, but it wasn’t the first thing I was expecting.
Another year a man got very abusive because he had come from South Wales to show the castle to his son and we would not let him inside. The reason for this is that there are generators and cabling in there for the bands – health and safety.
I explained this to him, but he had worked himself into a rage and was using some very unsuitable language in front of his 10 year old son. Eventually the boy, who did not seem to be quite as enthusiastic about Medieval architecture as his father, dragged him away.
I have always tried to achieve a good balance of stalls with something for everybody. it would be easy to fill the market almost entirely with cheap jewellery and we could do the same with bric-a-brac.
Both of these have their place and are both very popular with lots of visitors, but I feel it would be a mistake to let any one type of stall dominate the event.
If there is a key to Nunney Fayre’s success, it’s that we have always kept many of the stalls of previous years, but we have been able to add others too.
We have a lot of repeat stallholders. I try to accommodate their requests regarding location, but we also have room for newcomers. I like to try and vary the mix to make sure that the fayre offers something for everyone.
Popular stalls in recent years included ukuleles made from old tin cans and a sort of petting zoo with snakes and reptiles. These sat very well with old friends selling cupcakes and recycled glass.
At my first Fayre the mix was roughly 50/50, but it is increasingly hard to find stall holders who only want a table space, although many, having been unsuccessful in the ballot for gazebos, decide to accept a table space instead.
I would love to be able to offer everyone a gazebo pitch but the narrowness of the streets and the obligation to provide room for emergency vehicles to get through means this is not possible.
Also, I try to ensure that there is a variety scattered through the Fayre. I recently went to a local fair where three burger vans were placed next to each other. None of them looked especially happy.
Despite the care I take over this feedback from visitors shows me that I always get it wrong. Every year quite a large number complain that there is too much catering at the Fayre. And every year quite a large number complain that there is too little catering at the Fayre.
Then there are the newbies, sometimes at their first Fayre, being helped out by old hands. Many people comment on the Fayre that it has a great atmosphere and I think a lot of it stems from that chaotic but friendly period.
Of course, not everyone is happy. Every Fayre day one or two newcomers will demand that their pitch is changed or that they can put up a gazebo on a table pitch, which is absolutely forbidden.
At one Fayre I had a very irate man complaining about his neighbouring stallholder and demanding to be moved. When I got there – there is a lot of rushing about for the Secretary on Fayre day – I found his neighbour was also upset. She was from Greyhound Rescue and had three dogs with her.
The irate man, who was from a local charity, had applied for a stall to do a raffle and face painting for children and I thought I had given him a good spot. But he had changed his mind about the face painting and now wanted to run a game which involved bursting balloons every 30 seconds or so.
The greyhounds, a nervous breed at the best of times, were getting clearly distressed. Eventually we got him to agree to let the air out of the balloons rather than bursting them. He was not happy but it seemed the best solution at the time. Personally I would have preferred the face painting, less disruptive.
I have answered innumerable questions, attempted to solve several minor arguments and listened to quite a few helpful people who have explained why I am getting it all wrong.
When I took over as Fayre Secretary five year ago I introduced ‘posh’ toilets. Although ordinary portaloos are undoubtedly cheaper, I believe that there is ample evidence that visitors have stayed longer – and have spent more money as a result – because we had decent facilities available.
One year a man cornered me, however, to voice his anger over the toilets. Were they dirty? Was there no paper? No, he was furious that we played Robbie Williams in the background and he hated Robbie Williams. Clearly you can’t please them all.
But 5 o’clock is when the most extraordinary part of the Fayre happens. All the stalls pack up simultaneously and cars and vans flood into the village. It is chaos but, remarkably, there is very little ill-humour and the whole Fayre packs away in a very short space of time.
Within an hour the cleaner-uppers are at work and by seven it is as if the Fayre had never happened. Apart that is for those yellow markings and numbers which I will spray over in black tomorrow. But for now it is time to retreat to the pub and sit down with a drink.
One recent development, for which I can claim no credit at all, is that the pub now provides entertainment and a barbeque on the evening of Fayre day. This very welcome, at least to me. Previously the aftermath of the Fayre could be rather anticlimactic but this a great way to end the day.
It is also my hope that villagers and visitors alike have had a good day out and will want to come again next year. To that end I have introduced elements of street theatre and have attempted to spread music around the whole site, not just at the castle.
Some innovations have proved successful and popular, others not so and have been quietly dropped. Now it is time for someone to bring a different vision to it and I for one cannot wait to see it.
If you’re interested in helping to organise Nunney Street Market & Fayre 2016 and would like to have a chat, please phone Jeremy on 01373 836 949.