I said there would be reminiscence and since I’m currently trying to ignore some of the present it seems like a good time. So this is for everyone who has ever been to the Tulip Parade.
When I was young my hometown was a tourist destination. Hard to believe but true. Thousands of people descended on us for a weekend each year in May. They brought caravans – I used to watch them stream onto the Gleed School field.
The preparation started several months before. There were huge chassis made to be pulled by wonderfully hidden tractors, all in an agricultural barn waiting for their moment to shine. Millions of tulip heads were painstakingly stuck onto boards on the frames by hand. I can still feel the metal U shaped pins in my fingers. Because of course I did attach a few – mostly to the Brownie Church displays, and once to the Geest float I was to be on dressed as a monkey.
I was in it twice which is one of those things that stays with you I guess. The second time I was dressed as a clown, my face covered in 1960s greasepaint my parents had kept for such a moment. They came in a tattered brown cardboard box and smelt funny. We could only get it off with olive oil. We were celebrating some anniversary for the Church I seem to remember so I’m not sure why clowns were appropriate. My mum made the best clown costume the world had ever seen and I had my hair in three bunches I was so zany. The only down side was we had to walk and it was a really long way.
But the best bit, as a child, was watching it. The programme set out clearly when it would be arriving at the end of our road and it was almost always only about an hour late. 1970s plastic camping chairs were set out on the road from 6am, wrapped in rope to save the space for some elderly residents. We took a huge paint splattered step ladder so we could take turns in seeing over the crowd. And there was such a crowd. You couldn’t get down the road. Hard to imagine now.
When I was little I loved it all. The sweets thrown into the crowd by the handful; the people dressed in historical costume riding ancient bikes; the marching bands; the huge colourful floats; the baton twirlers; my younger cousins watching with us; the best view in the world from the top of the ladder. There was usually a bus with someone dressed as the Michelin man. And the Tulip Queen and Deputy of course sat on the back of a convertible car – the ultimate 1980s accolade for a young woman about (fenland) town.
As a brownie we ran a sweet stall in the Church grounds selling flying saucers; a bran tub filled with sawdust. As a guide we sold drinks, chocolate bars, parade programmes and notebooks with tulips on to the passing tourists.
Of course in my later teens I pretended I hated it. The tourists were so annoying. I even went to Peterborough one year to avoid it entirely in a teenage grump and soon regretted it when I couldn’t get back home for hours because the roads were still closed.
But really it was a remarkable thing. The community spirit that put it together – along with big businesses who saw sticking tulip heads of a float as the best advertising they would have all year – made it quite spectacular.
And then it stopped being a tulip parade anymore. The fields around Spalding aren’t filled with tulips, it’s mostly cabbages. They gave it a good valiant go for a few years and we managed to see it with the girls when they were little – floats less impressive but still the music, the cycling, the dancing, the helium balloon sellers. Now it’s gone. Seems like it existed in an alternate reality.
So come on you lot. What are your memories? The slightly weird tulip covered people outside the toilets on the sheep market? Very elderly people walking slowly in front of you? The smell of huge crates full of tulip heads waiting to be pinned on? Walking around the floats afterwards in a big field trying to get your parents to buy you candy floss? Roger Tuby’s Fun Fair? I’d love to hear.
We recently moved house in Sheffield and my next door neighbour went when he was young. Seems like everyone did.