No Surprises Living in Devizes: Lights on, nobody’s home

Picture by Gail Foster

MANY moons ago, when I lived in Swindon an overexcited friend enquired if I was attending the Old Town Christmas light switch-on, with added pitiful annotation to sway me, “Ian Beale is doing it!”

Despite the wealth he must have amassed I cannot help but feel sorry for Adam Woodyatt, probably a nice guy but no one knows him from Adam, even his granny probably called him “Ian.”

He’s been Ian Beale since he was seventeen and could play no other character. Neither can he escape Ian, and what a character it is; with unequalled miserable marriages, cheated on more times than Britain has by Nigel Farage, and parent to more scallywags than the old lady who lived in the shoe. If anyone, in reality, was to endure the depressing perpetuating storylines he has, they’d be crazier than Miley Cyrus on a magic mushroom binge at Disneyland. Give me strength, I had to politely decline.

I’m unconvinced by the prospect of any celeb coming to switch our town’s Christmas lights on, especially soap actors (I have an allergic reaction to soap operas). Glad in Devizes we have the one celeb that is apt for the job; he’s always done it despite it being his buzziest time of year.

Even though modern kids have swapped writing a letter to Santa with creating an Amazon wish-list, they still love to see the rosy fellow clamber out of the window of the Bear Hotel and jolt Christmas into place by lighting up a wobbly tree under an illumination of fireworks; it’s a town tradition.

And when the lights are on, no one stays at home; it attracts over three thousand eager revellers and has the biggest and best lantern parade this side of the Great Wall of China.

The lantern parade is spectacular to observe, but last year the kids wanted to take part and built their lanterns at school.

For what felt like a decade we stood in drizzle and zephyr outside St John’s church, aching to collect our lanterns. Shyness abound upon entry, children get “weirded-out” seeing their teacher; as if they’re but androids only operating within the perimeters of their school.

So it’s left to me to rumble through a mountain of homemade lanterns with missing nametags. The teacher, fuelled by one too many mulled wines, steadies herself against the pew, randomly indicating a rough direction to commerce the search.

Outside we waited another eon for our marching orders, while the weather progressed to showery and breezy. The children seemed delighted holding their lanterns, but twas only a momentary lapse of agitation; soon losing interest in the whole affair, and taken to complaining loudly.

The weather scheduled the march with the aim of chucking it down and blasting a hurricane in our general direction. By the time we made it to the Wharf where Father Christmas awaited to join the convoy, the kids were saturated, hands too cold and arms too tired to grasp their lantern, the task was left to Dads.

I pointed out Santa through torrent, but the kids were more concerned for their survival. Here speccy lantern enthusiasts with chunky beige jumpers and slick side-parted hair looked down on our creations with snigger. Against their megalithic sculptures of Peppa Pig or Chinese Dragons the length of New Park Street, our attempts at constructing a lantern were feeble. Oh sure, it’s “all together as one” at the Market Square, but solidarity dwindles hidden at the Wharf; it’s heatedly competitive.

We cut the marathon short in the car park, members of our school had dispersed anyway and we mingled with anyone crazy enough to continue.

Again the weather took another turn for the worst but we strode back, stopping occasionally to collect our slain. The lanterns stripped of their paper shades and the lights long since crushed under marching feet, were now but splintered bamboo canes blowing in the gale.

Now, you know I’m exaggerating for artistic licence; this year however we were blessed, it was clement for the time of year. The route of the lantern parade also altered, to be shorter and not close main routes through town, which was just as well; traffic built up due to a serious collision on Caen Hill.

But anything happening outside the bubble of celebrations didn’t falter the atmosphere inside. I think I’d say, with the added Sidmouth Street goings on, the whole town was buzzing in anticipation for the best one yet. With an electric atmosphere, lots of food and drink stands, rides, music, lights and side stalls, you have to give credit to DOCA for an awesome show.

With the lantern parade gathered more centrally in the Brittox, the two ends of the event were joined by lights; and many shops stayed open, encased in festive spirit.

When I got home and ceremoniously checked my Facebook, somebuddy had posted a video of shoppers killing each other in the name of peace and goodwill. It bought it all home, what a delightful and wonderful town we live in. Black Friday absent, we only chance it being overcast and grey; the only thing that could attempt to stall the fun at Devizes Christmas Fayre.

You can criticise our choice of celeb, wrongfully moan about the lack of decorations, knock our tree till it falls over, but the unique Devizes-style spirit of Christmas is alive on this special day unlike anywhere else I’ve ever lived and that, Devizions, is something to be proud of.

Simon Folkard captured the spirit of the event in his wonderful video:

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