Trials and tribulations are part of the job


Rhian Waller

It’s the time of year when thousands of residents will take to the streets or fields to enjoy festivals, carnivals and parades.

Just last weekend thousands turned out for the Connah’s Quay Carnival and this weekend boaters are gearing up for the Chester Raft Race on the River Dee.

Indeed there are plenty to choose from in Flintshire, Wrexham and Chester – but do people who enjoy the festivities know how much effort goes on behind the scenes?
Jane Evans of Mold is on the town’s Carnival Committee.

She said: “I got involved with the carnival about two years ago. There are seven or eight of us on the committee and it's seven days-a-week for nine months to get everything ready. It’s all voluntary.

“I mainly do the entertainment, booking all the bands, the special guests and the dance performances. I also run the bonny baby competition.”

The bonny baby contest became a bit of a millstone around Jane’s neck. Because of space limitations, 16 mothers, babies in tow, took part in the 2013 competition.
Mrs Evans said: “People were upset they couldn’t take part but 16 was too many.

“Imagine, 16 babies on stage together at the same time. This year we’re using social media. We’ve run heats on Facebook and let people vote. We had 107 babies enter and 6,800 votes already.”

The online heats have had unexpected effects. “It’s given us a huge social media boost, which is great – and we only have to show eight babies on the day.”

Britain’s Got Talent stars Richard and Adam Johnson of Holywell will be at the Mold event but participants in Mold’s Got Talent may face their own Simon Cowell – in the form of impersonator Andy Monk.

Miss Evans said: “I don’t think he'll be as cruel as the real one. In fact, he’ll have no need to be. All the acts are really good.”

Helen Parry of Mold, also an erstwhile member of the Carnival Committee, has years of experience laying on big events.

She said: “Things can go wrong. There was a bit of a mix up last year. After the parade,  it’s time for the judges to choose a winner. We realised because the parade started off in one place and finished in another, we didn’t have the cup with us.

“I’m not very fleet of foot so I sent someone to pick it up - and they came back with the wrong cup. Fortunately, the winner didn't mind.”

Several years ago, Mrs Parry was not as involved as she is now but she still had a role to play setting up the stalls.

She said: “It was back when the carnival was on the rugby field. I’d set all the stalls up and thought I’d done a good job – but I put a stall in a certain place and there was a dispute over the pitch.

“There was very nearly a punch up!

“The parade can be a bit of a nightmare, too. Last year, we had to walk through the bus station so we’d arranged for the automated bollards to be brought down to let people pass. People slowed down to give out sweets and balloons and there I was, screaming ‘Come on! Come on!” because it would have been a nasty surprise for whoever was standing over them when the bollards came back up!”

Mold Carnival is not alone in its mixture of fun and chaos.

Chester recently hosted its Midsummer Watch parade, a celebration of medieval figures and modern day colour with  puppets and people-powered vehicles.

Organiser Russell Kirk frequently finds himself asking people to do some pretty unusual things, although he is so used to finding someone to “carry the big fish” or become Balaam’s Ass for the day. It doesn’t strike him as odd any more.

He said: “There are always a couple of people who don’t turn up.

“Major items sometimes need to be pushed or carried, so sometimes we need to rope people in last minute, but we’ve been doing that so long we tend to take it in our stride.

“This year, I had to drag my father out of the crowd to push the elephant. He’d only come to watch.”

There are four parades, two on the summer solstice and two on the winter solstice.

In the 26 weeks in between, artist Russell finds himself repairing the fantastical creatures and creating more.

He said: “Because they have to be carried, we sacrifice strength for lightness, which means we’re constantly repairing or redesigning them.

“The only original, left from before I took over, is St Werburgh. We’ve redesigned the ravens’ wings about three times. They work really well now.

“We introduced two new puppets this year, Cernunnos, the Celtic horned god, and Balaam’s Ass, after the Old Testament story of when an angel granted the ass the powers of speech.”

Lisa Fearn, Connah’s Quay town centre manager, was back to work a matter of hours after the Connah’s Quay carnival finished last weekend, where members of the Chester Midsummer Watch parade also appeared.

She said: “It all started 11 years ago when we identified a need for a community event. Since then it’s got so big we’ve formed a committee and gathered a lot of volunteers. Without them and the support from the town and county council, it wouldn’t take place.

“It takes an awful lot of organising.

“We put the date for the next year on the calendar the day after the event.

“This year, it went pretty much without a hitch, because we’re very organised. The one thing we can’t control is the weather.

“There have been some near misses. One year the generator packed in just as we were about to serve out a load of free food. Then one year the marquee almost blew away. I remember hanging on to it.”

Thanks to the work of the Connah’s Quay Committee, the volunteers behind the Midsummer Watch and the numerous festivals, carnivals and events that take place around the three counties, it isn’t often that carnival-goers will notice that something has gone wrong – if it goes wrong at all.

Let’s hope that Mold Carnival, which falls on July 13, goes without a hitch.

See full story in the Leader

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