If there is one event within the programme of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival that is really dependent on the weather, it is the Garden Party in Chapelfield Gardens. Now before the shivering maids, and anyone else who has had their crow's feet frozen off over at Felbrigg theses last few weeks, have a go at me, from an audience perspective a little bit of rain and wind considerably adds to the elemental authenticity and power of WildWorks' 'Wolf's Child'. However, nobody enjoys standing around watching jugglers with wet balls in a downpour.
Last year's weekend event was held in glorious sunshine, and although I spent much of it inside the Norwich Puppet Theatre, constructing dinosaurs out of scrunched up newspaper and lolly sticks, my enduring memory is of enjoying a leisurely pint of Adnams from the Spiegeltent bar, lying on the lawns in the sunshine with some fellow volunteers at the end of our shift.
This year, whilst it may not be a heatwave, the forecast is looking good, and a mixture of blue sky and fluffy white clouds greets me as I turn up for my Saturday shift. Originally I would have been scheduled to work right through to the close at 5.30pm, performing a range of duties including the completion of Customer Satisfaction Questionnaires (CSQ's), and some Festival fundraising. As it turns out, I will now only be approaching visitors to get some important feedback on audience demographics, and reaction (good and bad) to the day's events. Which is an excellent excuse to approach anyone listening a radio, or checking their mobile telephone, and get a score update from Carrow Road. For today is the second leg of the Old Firm soccer match between local rivals Norwich City and Ipswich Town. The winner progresses to a Wembley final, and a chance to play in next season's Premier League.
Over the next two hours I manage to get a clipboard full of completed surveys, and still keep abreast of the football. Most people are quite happy to provide feedback, although as it is still only the beginning of the first day, it is possibly a little too early for them to have formed a representative opinion. Some are quite happy just to chat, and a few moments spent engaging with the public is always good PR. Only a very few treat me with the contempt normally reserved for a timeshare salesman, and a few that have already been asked several times already by other volunteers are beginning to show signs of their patience being tested.
Two advantages of a shift that finishes at 2.00pm are, a) I get a chance to enjoy the rest of the day, saved from having to point out the toilets every two minutes, and b) my son, who has driven up from Hampshire to watch the football, can join me for a pint of Adnams Ghost Ship in the Spiegeltent bar. Before he arrives, jubilent at a 3-1 victory for Norwich City, I get a chance to hear the wonderful House Gospel Choir perform from the bandstand, prior to their Spiegeltent gig later in the evening; I marvel at the choreographed juggling from the Gandinis; I am mesmerised by the strength and fluidity of Company Chameleon's street dancing; and I am bemused by Plungeboom's 'Smoking Man', a gentle ambulatory comedy performed by Ben Faulks (CBeebies' Mr Bloom).
Gospel House Choir
After that, it all goes a bit pear-shaped. We enjoy the Adnams hospitality until the bar ends its afternoon session, then adjourn to the nearby 'Sir Garnet' for a couple more before ordering a taxi home. Leaving the motorbike in the city seems like a sensible idea.
Day 2 - Sunday. The son and I are up like larks - he has to meet friends for lunch in Cambridge, and although I have until 11.00am to get myself back to Chapelfield Gardens for a full day of stewarding. I am dropped off back in the city centre just after 8.30am! Plenty of time for a stimulating cup of coffee to re-ignite the brain cells.
Kat and Lewis give us our volunteer shift briefing - just to check that we have not forgotten where the toilets are, and that we remember how to deal with a lost child, then we are assigned to our roles. Four of us are posted to the main performance pitch and bandstand area, where we will get to watch both performances by Gandini Juggling and Company Chameleon whilst at the same time attempting to keep the audiences behind the demarcated lines of white tape. We also have to protect the sound equipment on the bandstand from over-enthusiastic children, often encouraged onto it to dance by their parents.
The jugglers perform on dance mats, which have to be unrolled and swept before each performance - cue more inadequately supervised children whose parents seem to think that the dance mat arrives courtesy of Tumble Tots, whilst the street dancers, obviously, perform on the street. We still have to sweep the area thoroughly for them, in order to remove enough the smallest of potentially sharp stones. White tape is again used to attempt to keep the swept area clear before the performance, and, to be fair, most of the audience remain stalwartly behind it during the actual performances. In between, local folk band Feral Mouth arrive and perform a rousing set on the bandstand.
Feral Mouth's singer Jape
The weather remains bright and sunny, and the afternoon is a great success. There is one lost child (who is quickly reunited), one minor injury over by the café, and a couple of concerns over anti-social behaviour, but these are inevitable at any large-scale event, and the Festival organisers have plans in place to deal with all these eventualities, so that the audience experience is not in any way compromised.
There is just enough time for a quick pint at the end of our shift before dispersing. I am safe to reclaim my motorcycle, so head off home for a quick bite to eat, and a change of t-shirt, before heading back to Norwich Arts Centre for the Festival's Sunday Night Beat Club with local jazz band, Mammal Hands.