Research Explorations in the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site PhD Reflections on 'The Practices of Carnival: Community Culture and Place' (Jon Croose) and 'Stone Exposures: photography, landscape change and anticipatory adaptation in the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site' (Rose Ferraby)

A Day at Teignmouth Carnival

12.06.2011 · Posted in Carnival

A Day at Teignmouth Carnival – July, 27 2011

seaIt is carnival day in Teignmouth. In anticipation of the big parade, Tilly and I spend the morning fishing on the beach and talking to the lady at the cafe down by the lifeboat station.

I ask her what she thinks about the carnival. ‘It’s a chance for everyone to come out, and have some fun isn’t it? It’s not like it was in the old days, but you have got to do your bit haven’t you?’ she says.

fairAfter lunch in the Beachcomber, Tilly (7) and I wander around Rowlands funfair on the Den, enjoying the dodgems and sideshows, the Crazy Cottage and the Hook-A-Duck. At the inflatable slide, while Tilly throws herself into the void repeatedly on the sure expectation of a soft landing, I ask the surly attendant ‘How’s business?’

‘Quiet’ he mumbles.

‘Big procession tonight, isn’t it?’ I say.

‘Yeah’ he says, lacking enthusiasm.

The fairground smells of candy floss and cigarettes. It is full of teenagers; a place of adolescent discovery; a half-way house between childish pleasures and the temptations of adulthood; a testing ground for the flirtatious glance, the trial of strength and the thrill of speed.

stageTilly and I escape the plastic prizes and walk past the seafront skate park to the Community Stage on the Den, where majorettes are twirling their batons into the air and little kids from the local dance school are performing to an audience of proud parents. Everything is really well organised and entirely voluntary. These are local people taking over their own streets and celebrating their own participation in community life. As we walk back towards the lighthouse, where the floats are gathering for the parade, I run into a friend who has lived locally all her life. Her husband has built the Wild West float for her village entry, and her kids are dressed as cowboys and indians. ‘I have a photograph of myself as a little girl,’ she says, ‘on the float in the carnival. Every year we took part in the parade. I want to hand that memory on to the next generation.’

wildwestFor her, the parade is all about community spirit. ‘These are the same people who run the village fetes and the district shows, the people who show up and support each other’ she says. She is proud of the village float. Her husband and his friends have spent hours of their free time building it and she is proud of the skill they have put in. They have a friendly rivalry with other villages in this regard and are keen to win points and trophies. Her family spend the summer taking the float to parades in neighbouring towns, and carnival events bind these communities together in a repeated pageant of Devon life, something that is watched by the tourists and visitors but made and owned by the locals. The kids get to stay up late and the family have a day out in which for an hour they are the centre of everyone’s attention.

aliceTilly and I walk through the assembled floats and judge for ourselves. No-one challenges us. There are no VIP areas or restricted zones. Tilly is my passport – there are kids everywhere, families dressing up and getting in the mood. In the parade there are floats from Totnes, Harbertonford, South Brent, Torbay. There is the Monarch of the Glen, there goes Alice in Wonderland, the road is jammed with tractors, trailers and trucks.

Ipplepen’s Wild West Train looks great and the kids costumes are fab, their only limitation the safety chains and hoops they have to stand in to stop them falling off the lorry. The parade also provides a place of display for a Fairtrade organisation, a Christian group, local cafes, nightclubs and businesses. The staff of the Oystercatcher Cafe are dressed as…Oystercatchers. Local summer events, such as Lemonfest and the Shaldon Water Carnival also take this chance to promote themselves to the public.

harbyTilly and I wander among the floats. The sidestreets of the town are also busy, as people throng to the pubs and takeaways before claiming their spot along the parade route. We go to the promenade and find a spot on the procession route where we can watch the parade go by. We eat and afterwards Tilly does timed running races – to the ice cream stand and back is 30 seconds. Standing on one leg: 31 seconds. As we sit, the place fills up. The streets are lined with people, visitors and locals alike.

A sense of anticipation builds, but Tilly and the other kids struggle with boredom during the wait. Shaun told me 150,000 people show up for Weymouth carnival and in Teignmouth it looks like the whole town has turned out to see and be seen, to be visible for a day. The mayor walks among the crowd in his chain of office, the balconies and terraces are full.

ladiesFinally the parade begins, led by the majorettes and a bagpipe band. People politely observe the new ‘ no coin throwing’ rule and applaud loudly when their friends and neighbours march past or when a parade entry shows particular energy or creativity and craft in its construction. Tilly cheers loudly when her friend Oliver goes by on the Ipplepen Wild West train, dressed in his train driver outfit. Hawkers work the crowd selling whistles and balloons. Tilly loves running out and putting money in the buckets when a favourite entry goes by. Staff from the local Argos store come by with sweets for the kids and shopping trolleys full of this season’s store catalogue.

canalThe parade continues in a cacophony of competing PA systems. Here comes the local fire engine, the ambulance service, Newton Abbot’s Carnival Queen on a mock up of a 19th century canal barge; the pride of Harbertonford’s young womanhood in an English Country Garden. The procession brings idealised versions of these local places and displays them to the wider community.

pigWalking entries include the winners (Alice in Wonderland) and a fantastic entry in which a Butcher’s Pig carries the live head of a small boy on a platter – a fantastic carnival inversion of the traditional Jolly Butcher figure.

In the audience we laugh, mock and banter with each other and the grown-ups drink canned beer. As the back end of the parade moves away from us we hear the reverberations of its sound systems bouncing off the buildings as the Carnival winds into the back streets and becomes all but invisible, spreading its energy into the rest of the town.

pierTilly and I walk back along the seafront as the sun sets. The street is full of tired kids dragging their feet and demanding one more visit to the funfair. There is a sense of release and a sense of calm descending. The parade stops the traffic. We sit in the car for 20 minutes waiting for the streets to clear.

As we sit, and Tilly falls asleep in the back, my mind is full of thoughts and questions. The carnival is an expression of heritage and continuity, a public idealisation of local identities in public space. How does it feel to travel to another town and parade yourself in this way? How does it feel to be on home turf?

The carnival is intergenerational and voluntary and expresses a sense of civic duty in raising money for good causes. It has a popular vocabulary that is understood by all. It is not ‘arty farty’ but rewards creativity, imagination and practical skill. The carnival uses the natural and cultural landscape of the seaside town: its Esplanade and a vocabulary made up of boats and seabirds, sailors and pirates, alongside an idealised imagery of 19th century pastoral England. For one day a year this seaside town, which is so used to looking out to sea, turns its back on the water and looks at itself, represents its values, mocks itself and draws a mark in the seasonal life of its people.

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