Tom Wrigglesworth - how a local fete caused an existential crisis

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 October 2016

Tom Wrigglesworth

Tom Wrigglesworth


A few years ago I suffered a break down in a supermarket. A kind of existential crisis hit me in the cleaning products aisle with such force I became worried that the noise created by the fabric of my mind being torn apart might be heard all the way over in the cheese section.

Cakes, glorious cakes...Cakes, glorious cakes...

I’d spent the morning of this incident on the phone to banks and building societies as I tried to secure a mortgage for an East London flat. Essentially trying to convince people with telephonic headsets and computers that I will write and perform so many jokes over the next twenty years that lending me hundreds of thousands of pounds is a risk free proposition. It was easily the most grown up thing I’d ever done.

With my head full of these intangibly massive figures, I found myself in Sainsbury’s picking out a bottle of washing up liquid. Choosing ‘Fairy Liquid’s Apple explosion’ over ‘Palmolive’s Citrus zing’ I noticed that the supermarket’s own brand was three pence a bottle cheaper and quickly changed tack. That’s when it happened – being suddenly forced to refocus from life changing sums of money involving bricks and mortar to deciding which bubble forming translucent slime I take home, caused my brain to collapse.

Surely you can’t be expected to hold such a broad spectrum of numbers in your mind at once. I’d actually have more respect for any Chancellor of the Exchequer if, when quizzed on daytime television about the price of a pint of milk or loaf of bread, they flipped a table over in anger and screamed ‘I deal in trillions, literally trillions! Of course I don’t know how much a loaf of bread is, anymore than a normal person knows what will happen to our GDP if interest rates shifted by a quarter of one per cent.’

Having now moved back to the area I grew up, and into a house that needs a lot of restoration, I recently attended my local summer fete in Sheffield. Held annually, it’s a celebration of achievement which showcases what local folk have drawn, made, baked, or grown and it’s held in a primary school. Now, people who aren’t teachers, nor have kids of the relevant age, feel very strange when wandering round primary schools. In fact these days, the only times I’ve found myself in one are, this local fete or when I’m voting in an election. Judging by the political apathy that’s become sadly normal, and the fierce cheer that rang around when they announced the winner of this year’s lemon drizzle, it’s not hard to see which one people take more seriously.

Vegetable Competitions are a serious businessVegetable Competitions are a serious business

However, this was not the primary school I attended; but the other one. The one we afforded an unkind nickname, the one with a weird uniform, the one that when we played them at football, it honestly felt like an Old Firm Derby. Even thirty years after I’d left and moved on to ‘big school’, wandering round the place still felt like I was behind enemy lines and if word got out who I was I could easily face a kicking, or more likely, getting thwacked with this year’s biggest marrow.

On this occasion, having spent the morning deciding which bathroom tiles will adorn the walls for the next ten years, or which boiler is going to be the thermal workhorse for a generation, I found myself staring at a trestle table full of cucumbers when I felt the same crisis of existence that hit me when I was picking which washing up liquid to buy. I was snapped out of this emotional tailspin by overhearing who I think was the vicar’s wife remark ‘number three is straighter, and it has lovely markings, I’m awarding it to number three’.

Maybe that’s the sign of being a proper grown up, I thought to myself as I walked home. It’s not getting a mortgage or sizing up a boiler that causes us to come of age – it’s the ability to point at a plate of blackberries, compare it to another near identical plate of blackberries, pass judgment and still hold on to all our marbles. The other thought I had was that next year, I could definitely win top prize for longest runner bean.

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