It was also, of course, the ideal excuse for a party, and so my parents held one every year. In due course, I might as well say now, the Thursday firework display was discontinued on grounds of cost, but I expect the Monday one still takes place, though I don’t know the arrangements nowadays.
On that Monday evening, to celebrate the end of the Regatta, there was the burning of the Golden Galleon, and this event caused me some nervousness for a few years in my childhood. You see, once someone told me that the way the Golden Galleon was selected was that they looked for the scruffiest boat on the river and chose that to burn. We had a rather dilapidated boat at the time, and I was sure it would be picked. We did lose that boat in the end, in fact, during a storm it broke loose from its moorings and was swept down to the lock gates where it crashed and sank. I don’t know if it was insured, let’s hope so.
Of course, the Golden Galleon was actually a raft piled with wood, a floating bonfire, and I suppose it was towed down the river once it was aflame, but it was quite a spectacular sight.
I can’t at this moment remember the name of the firework company, but the man who set up the display and let them off was called Fred Faithfull. He came with a colleague, not necessarily the same one each year, but it was always Fred and he and my parents were quite friendly and exchanged Christmas cards.
It was a spectacular display, back in the old days. There were two or three set pieces, one was Golden Rain, where there was a wire set up between two poles and the sparkles dropped like rain. I know, a slightly different connotation nowadays, perhaps? – it was a more innocent time. The final display, on the Thursday, said “GOOD NIGHT” and on the Monday, “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN” – which I very much doubt is the case now.
My mother held coffee mornings and garden parties for charity, they were quite big events. The garden was big enough for lots of stalls and games. I usually, at these garden parties, got roped in to do something when I was little, which I didn’t care for at all, being terribly shy. Winsome little girls were either sent out with baskets of posies to sell or else had lots of handkerchiefs pinned to their dress, which the ladies could buy and unpin. I remember twins a year younger than I who were always up for this sort of thing, which was a good job because, although I was generally quite biddable, I’d do nothing at all as a sales pitch and buyers had to search me out.
I’ve mentioned before how hard my mother worked, but she didn’t do it all on her own. On the day before the event, or sometimes on the same day, a group of her friends would come along and get stuck in and help finish the preparations. It was known as ‘the party to get ready for the party.’ It was a lot of fun, you know. I’m still not entirely sure whether these memories are making me happy or melancholy for what’s long gone.