Notification of the summer Kermesse came via the fantastically efficient ‘Cahier de Liaison’. No lost ‘notes’ or overlooked emails or misdirected texts. One exercise book into which any communication home is pasted or written. And into which I occasionally write a note to the teacher. No idea if this is standard practice, but it makes sense to me!
Kermesse, from the description, was clearly the summer fair – barbeque, games and some other stuff. It was scheduled for a Wednesday afternoon – as most of these extra do’s are. Lovely. I put my name down to help for an hour – one of the only ways to break some ice with the French parents, and force myself to speak a bit more French too. I’ve always tried to make time to help out at school things since the girls started preschool. The girls seem to love me doing it and if you’re not the best at socialising it gets you out there! There isn’t heaps to get involved with here, but I’ve offered for pretty much everything going.
Kermesse day arrived and I picked the girls up from school at 11.30 with a picnic. I figured they would be hungry and could have a light lunch, topped up with something from the barbeque when Kermesse started at 12.30. And I could have an early lunch to be ready to help with whatever I was meant to help with.
12.30 arrived and the various gathered families tucked into long French saucises in lengths of baguette. We wandered over to see what was going on. Not much. Just the barbeque. They had a system where you bought tickets from a single tent, and swapped them for things. We got some juice and the girls continued playing in the playpark next to the amphitheatre space that is used for most events. There were trestle tables set up, with plastic boxes containing stuff for stalls. Under one gazebo was a paddling pool full of plastic ducks waiting to be hooked. But nothing happening. Just the barbeque. The leaflet had definitely said that Kermesse started at 12.30. But the tickets lady had told me I needed to return at 2pm to swap four tickets per child for a card that they then had to gather stamps on at the various activities. Why 2pm?
Of course. It was lunch time. And what you do at lunch time in France is… te da… have lunch. You don’t have lunch in a hurry and then set up stalls. You don’t compromise on important eating and chatting time to do work. No no no. You have lunch. Relaxedly. Pleasantly. You take a real proper break from the day’s toil. You help your country have an effective GDP by resting and refreshing your mind and body. Lovely. I was up for a bit of that.
Around 1.30 (official end of lunch break) there seemed to be some people gathering and starting to bustle about the stalls, so I identified the person in charge. was introduced to the person organising the games, and listened intently to our instructions (which I mostly understood – yay!). There were six key activities, and the children had to complete all of them before they could get a prize. They carried their card to each, were given a stamp (different at each activity) when they completed it, and when they had all six stamps could go and choose a prize at the prize table. It was great. No taking money, not too much tat, no chance of children hogging a favourite activity. You had to have a go at each thing – no getting out of it if you wanted a prize. The games weren’t overly clever or fiddly either, just fun activities – and everyone loved them. We had:
- Hook 7 ducks out of the pond
- Three throws to try to get all the cans down (plastic ‘cans’ containing a bit of sandy gravel to give them some weight, and some largish balls – larger ones for the smaller children. The really little ones could roll the ball, the bigger ones had to throw).
- Tug of war – you had to wait for a few people to be there to make two teams, or rope in a friend who’d already done it, or a parent or two!
- Sack race
- Stilt walking – my stand. We had two sets of proper wooden stilts, some of those plastic pots with ropes attached that you step on and hold tight, then walk along, plus two space hoppers for the teenies (which were popular to a suprising age – I was strict about the older ones at least have a good go with some stilts though!)
- ‘Café’ challenge. The children had to don some dressups, pick up a tray with four plastic cups of water, carry it single-handed around a simple ‘slalom’ obstacle course that included some hoops they had to step in with both feet, and back.
Simple and fun.
My girls took a bit of encouraging to get going. Especially the older one who, I think, thought she was too cool. But when she realised all her classmates were joining in, having fun, and getting prizes, she got stuck in.
There were just two other activities, one of which was colouring – for smaller children who maybe really were too little for everything else (but there were some teenies going round with their parents, which was fab) , and a parent-child blindfold obstacle course (one blindfolded, one giving the instructions) which was run every hour.
I thought it was brilliant. Really quite straightforward, pretty low key, but everyone joining in and having lots of fun. I’m sure our kids’ UK school needed to raise more money than their well-funded French one, but I reckon a few schools could take some inspiration from the simplicity factor. Plus fewer prizes. I mean who needs a cheap plastic toy or sugary treat from every game they play? Here they got to choose one kinda decent cheap toy and a keyring, or pot of bubbles or similar. Less outlay for the organisers = higher profit. Less consumption & crappy plastic = better for the planet. More focus on joining in = more fun for everyone.
And of course it was just fine to go and grab yourself a beer while you minded your game. Well, I decided it was. I mean, there was beer on the drinks stand, and other grownups around the place were enjoying a cold one – including the lady handing out the beverages, so…
Then I found out that Kermesse was only the start of the festivities. It was segueing into an evening party, to which everyone was invited. A kind of end-of-interseason-start-of-summer celebration. So around 5pm we hot-footed it home for some warmer clothes, stuffed some pasta in the kids and returned to eat ‘barbe e papa’ and chips, and enjoy a few more cold beers with folk as the sun went down.
Summer is here. Officially. Now to tackle Fear of the Mountain (on my new mountain bike) and I’m good to go.