I’m Canadian and have lived in Cambridgeshire since 2000. Although I’ll never be mistaken for a local, I’d like to think that I’ve ensconced myself into British life. Maybe it helps to be from a Commonwealth country, but I’ve always happily embraced all things English. Except for Marmite – I just can’t do that one, sorry.
A note came through the letterbox one day with details about a Jubilee street party. I suppose that the equivalent back home would be a block party, but I’m not sure if that’s something that actually exists in Canada or if it’s something I’ve only seen on American television. Either way, I thought it was a great idea and a fun opportunity to meet our neighbours.
Some historians believe that the first street parties marked the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Later, street parties were used to celebrate the Jubilee of King George V in 1935 and the 1937 Coronation of George VI. Many communities held street parties for the royal wedding last year, but this was a first for our street.
9,500 road closure applications were filed across England the Wales for the Jubilee weekend. Most parties were held on the Saturday or Sunday, and ours was on the Monday. Considering the highly changeable weather all weekend, any of those days would have involved rain roulette.
Approximately 80 people came to our street party, which was organised by a few of the residents. Many people have lived here for 10 years, and a few since the estate was first built in the mid-80s. One neighbour remembers when the area was just a field with a large pond, which explains why every Spring I fight with thick layers of clay in my garden in a futile attempt to grow vegetables. The party was held on a green, under a canopy of trees and numerous gazebos to keep the rain at bay.
Like the British, Canadians enjoy complaining about the weather. When it’s hot, it’s too hot, but we mustn’t grumble because at least it’s sunny. When it’s rainy, it’s too rainy, but we mustn’t grumble because at least it helps with the drought and our crunchy brown lawns. In between bouts of rain, people went home and returned with steaming mugs of tea. “We shall soldier on!” one neighbour told me.
Each family was asked to bring a plate of food. I did a “fusion” dish: New York cheesecake with a Union Jack made out of fruit on top. Tables groaned under the weight of dozens of fairy cakes, flapjacks, scones, salads, sausage rolls, pizza, quiche, biscuits, spring rolls, and samosas. It was our street on a table.
I’m not the only foreigner on the block. Along with my (weirdly trans-Atlantic) accent, there were several others. We had a “guess the royal” picture quiz, and those of us born elsewhere joked that we’d have to copy our English neighbours.
We had face painting, a bouncy castle, a scooter competition, a hat contest for kids and adults, biscuit decorating, and garden games. We dashed from gazebos to the various activities whenever there was a break in the rain, although the children seemed unfazed and continued to bounce on the increasingly wet castle.
There was a visit from Cambridgeshire firefighters, which seemed to pique the interest of both children and mothers alike. Although they weren’t the shirtless, holding a puppy variety of firefighters, they were very kind and the kids enjoyed climbing up into the fire engine.
I noticed several people standing alongside the fire engine when one of my neighbours waved me over. Apparently they were getting ready to pose for a photo, but I thought they were just standing in a queue. She laughed and said, “We do like to form orderly queues, don’t we?”
I learned that our next door neighbour has been making his own beer for years now and said he’s got gallons of it up in his loft, and I had a lengthy conversation for the first time with the neighbour who lives behind us. We took a break from our busy lives to do the equivalent of a chat across the garden fence - which is the point of a street party, I think. It’s an excuse for a good old fashioned knees-up and a laugh…and you can’t get more British than that.