I accompanied my wife to a craft fair a few days ago. I trudged round behind her, my arms getting longer as she loaded me with bag after bag of paper, card and other paraphernalia which she needs to make her greetings cards. Was I fed up? Not at all as it gave me the chance to observe everything that was going on. I found myself drawn to other men who were performing a similar role to mine – carrying an ever-increasing load while trying to find space among the crowds so as not to cause an obstruction. We gathered around pillars, in recesses, behind corners and under stairs as we tried to avoid being jostled by eager crafters. We were like wildebeest at the watering hole - avoiding eye-contact with each other while staying alert for any predators i.e. the females who would come along to hang yet more plastic bags on our straining fingers.
There must be some sort of social chemistry going on here that would merit a scientific study and it got me thinking about communities. Not in the normal residential sense of the word but communities of people with like-minded interests. These women had gathered here from all over the place to learn skills and buy materials for their craft. Now, for some it is a hobby but for others it is a part-time occupation and they earn money at local fêtes and markets. These women could well be competing with each other for business at some Christmas fair but they still swap ideas, give advice to each other and generally help out with problems.
Then I thought back to a few years ago when I was a bit more athletic than I am now. I used to compete in Triathlon (swim/cycle/run) and entered races all over the country. When you do enough of these races you get to recognise familiar faces, strike up friendships and swap anecdotes. Again, although we were rivals during the race, there was always someone to give a hand before the start – help with a puncture, the lend of a swim cap or advice about the race route. Even during the race we would help each other from the water or shout encouragement during the bike section.
And that brought me back to my current pursuit – writing. We're all scrambling to get an agent, have a short story accepted by a magazine or persuade the BBC that our sitcom idea is the best thing since Dad's Army. Yet we have womagwriter helping us approach the likes of T-a-B and PF, plus other published authors and scriptwriters giving up their wisdom and acquired experienced to haul us lesser mortals up to their standard.
I've always been cynical about the qualities of the human race but maybe I should promise to stop reading all those stories about overpaid footballers, greedy bankers and talentless celebrities. I'll probably break that promise but at least I'll remind myself that these people are in the minority and the rest of us are decent, caring people.
Another promise I've made to myself is that the next time my wife takes me to a craft fair I'm going to take a wheelbarrow.