I spent Monday wandering round Meltham during its annual Scarecrow Festival.
“Keep moving,” I was advised, “or you might win a prize.”
Stranger things have happened.
I once bought a Big Issue from a chap in Leeds and five minutes later, as I waited for my wife outside a shop, a lady pushed a pound coin into my hand and bought it back off me with an encouraging smile at my misfortune.
So, not wanting to be confused for either scarecrow or Big Issue salesman, I made an effort with my attire. After all, it was expected: I was one of the judges.
I have deflected requests to attend events in recent years but this was the next village,
I wasn’t expected to make a speech and had been assured by Mary Gomersall of the Meltham Over 60s organising committee that it would only entail ”a couple of hours”.
Mary tells fibs. This year, 68 scarecrows had been registered. A few more and they could be standing in the local elections.
St Bartholomew’s Parish Church Hall was busy when I arrived and was introduced to official Philip Kaye. I was given a pen and clipboard, discovered there were several categories, given a guide to good judging and realised this was a complicated business.
Thank goodness my co-judge was Meltham Councillor Paul White, a gentleman whose charm, good humour and commonsense staved off my panic.
And then we were off, guided around the village by Philip.
The crowds were out, the sun was shining and banter was bouncing back and forth, as families followed the trail and did their own marking. A lot of work, ingenuity and inspiration had gone into making the scarecrows.
Picking top three in each category was going to be difficult. The standard was incredibly high.
The Tour de Yorkshire was a popular theme, a larger than life John Travolta in a doorway on Huddersfield Road could have startled drunks to sobriety and a straw rugby player was a Wicker Man version of Eorl Crabtree. The Wedding at Cana had a scarecrow rabbi and a cardboard modern bride and groom that had the merit of children being able to stick their faces through the cut-out heads to have their photographs taken. It was that sort of fun day.
And I don’t know about scaring crows, but the faces on the Strictly Come Dancing tableau scared the life out of me.
Back at the packed church hall came the difficult part: reading through notes, checking through the images on my camera I had taken of every exhibit and working out the winners. Fortunately, Paul remained a calming influence. It had been a spectacularly successful day: this was what community was all about. We eventually handed over our list of winners and Paul very bravely said he would be present when they were declared. I made my excuses and left.
I had this worry that, as an outsider, if our selections found disfavour, I could have ended up being stuffed inside the Wicker Man and put on permanent display