“I will meet you in front of the galloping horses on Abingdon Market Place at eight o’clock,” I had swiftly typed with my thumbs to my friend. In front of me, a fairground organ belted out I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside and other English classics. As dates go, it was somewhat unusual and a bit random.
Backwards and forwards went the clarification text messages, for it later transpired that, although native Abingdonian, she had never before heard of this little Sunday night ceremony in the Market Place, which opens the town’s annual Michaelmas Fair.
It consists of a civic procession led by the imposing figure of a bowler-hatted civic mace bearer, the robed and hatted Mayor of Abingdon and parish councillors. They emerge, in full regalia, through an expectant crowd of locals, to ascend the steps of Hebborn of Oxford’s Golden Galloping Horses carousel.
There follows a short service of worship, officiated by one of the town’s Christian ministers, which features a short speech by the mayor, some prayers of blessing on the town and the fair and three hymns accompanied by Abingdon Town Band.
They are always well-known hymns, like Crown Him With Many Crowns, or Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.
And my voice wavered - undetected except perhaps by the person stood next to me - during the singing of the lines “most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days” in the opening hymn. It was my mother’s favourite, sung at her funeral 24 years ago, in an evangelical Anglican church which now looks quite different from how it did back then.
Spread over a large part of the town centre along Market Place, High Street, The Square and the entire length of Ock Street, the fair inevitably ends up generating a significant amount of traffic disruption. Those journeying from the south of the town to the north, or the town centre, have to pay increased taxi fares as a result.
Music is a creative and a powerful thing, which can evoke vivid and still bittersweet memories of those good and kind souls long since departed this world
But earlier in the day there were also happy memories, as the worship band in church belted out We Plough the Fields and Scatter, with a flourish on the bass guitar, for Harvest Festival, a favourite from my Church of England primary school in the 1970s.
Harvest Festival and Michaelmas Fair presage the season of Autumn. They are a significant thing, both individually and corporately in the civic life of the town.
Abingdon Town Council has a predilection for civic pomp and circumstance, which perhaps more befit larger towns, but one thing that it does do well is the conduct of events such as this, which offer something deep and meaningful.
And a free ride on Mr Hebborn's Golden Galloping Horses afterwards.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 10 October 2018