My head rose and fell, as I nodded in the peace of the day. My makeshift pillow, the soft tummy of my partner, grew and shrank with each breathe. The warmth of the sunshine coupled with the body heat under my head surrounded me in warmth. Like a cat sprawled under a sunbeam I stretched out in blissful contentment. Nothing strayed from the slow rhythm in my little bubble of perception. Silent intermittent splashes of shade played across my body as clouds drifted across the vast sky.
Electronic music, zingy and energetic blasted from the stage of the Super Mega Zone. But its contagious beat fired harmlessly over our heads as we dozed on the soft grass of the Midsummer Common. A few daring souls bounced and bumped close to the stage as the rest of the onlookers bobbed their heads in appreciation.
Small encampments of people crowded around us: bubbling, chuckling, smiling packets of humanity. Nowhere could I see a tense face as I surveyed the crowd in random lazy blinking glimpses.
Beer could be consumed freely on the licensed common grounds and every now and then a whiff of marijuana would drift by on the breeze. People were happy in their own way.
As I strode through the stands and stages of Cambridge’s 40th Strawberry Fair with my hand clasped in the hand of my eccentric boyfriend, J, I marveled at the acceptance evident across the grounds. I’d just received a marvelous face painting and J’s vibrant pink hair was tied back with a blue flower we’d found at a booth.
People adorned in black leather marked by studs and rips, and crested by extravagant spiked ridges of hair in electric colours were settled right next to a corner dedicated to herbal remedies and gardening.
People in pastel-toned, natural colours and flowers woven through their hair were mingling before stages churning out metal rock music.
Stereotypes were being formed and broken in my mind with each step. It was a day of contradictions.
There were so many things to do and see: face painting, circus acts, a market, kids games, art crafts, poetry and innumerable styles of music—from rock and sea shanties to ska and hip-hop.
Heck, there was even one tent hosting an artist creating music from a collection of the sounds emitted from household items scrapping together.
Forty years ago when the fair was first held it looked quite different.
It seems a band of Cambridge University students, called the Mayday Group, decided to hold an alternative fair on the Mayday bank holiday. The small event was such a success they decided to hold another one a few weeks later in June as an alternative to the Cambridge University May Balls (I know, May Balls in June?).
Inspired by the Monty Python age, the fair highlighted clowns, comedy and surrealism. The next year they held it 2, 000 people turned up and a Chinese dragon prowled the parade.
By the 80s politics and pop music entered the colourful fusion. More music was added and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) movement was placed at center stage. Local and national charities flocked to the call of the fair.
The costs also rose. In 1976 the organizers needed to scrounge up £300 (GBP) for the event, now it costs about £100,000 (GBP) to run.
It’s amazing that the event is run on donations and volunteers alone.
Aside from being reinvented to cater more to children and youth the fair hasn’t strayed far from its founding spirit.
Since I plan to be based in Cambridge for the time being, I’m definitely putting this event on my radar for next year!
Unfortunately, seeing as it just ended, you’ll have to wait until 2015 to attend the Strawberry Fair, but it’s evident that its stubborn, rebellious nature will ensure its continuance.
So you can be sure it will be there waiting for you with open flower-adorned and tattoo painted arms.
It’s up to you whether you want to dive in for the hug!
But if you just want a handshake instead, I highly recommend the Strawberry Shorts Film Festival hosted the day before the fair each year. This one was brilliant with a variety of works covering many different topics and mediums.
To give you a taste:
Born To Be Mild by Andy Oxley is a witty take on some rather dull hobbyists, but you’ll be too busy laughing to notice!
Record, by Hawraz Mohammed, was the winner of the Audience Choice Award with its solemn display of Iraqi Kurdistan parents trying to hide their unhappy reality from their son abroad as they send him a video greeting.
And Tabatô, by João Viana, with its lively drum beats juxtaposed by the dark tension of living with constant war was chosen by the judges panel.