The bells of Saint Mary’s Church echoed throughout the quiet streets, and for just one minute, their ringing spread peace all around the top of the hill. If Wimbledonians listened carefully, perhaps they could hear the high-pitched murmur of devotees flowing out of the main entrance and onto the gravel path. As the churchgoers made their way through the small graveyard, the path opened up on to a grassy enclosure before reaching Arthur Road.
Like all third Sundays of the month, the green of the enclosure was full of endless lines of market stalls. They filled the space with their wonky metal tables, their shelter made out of ripped bed sheets, and their posters hand-written in clumsy capital letters. Both the shouting from the stands and the crowd seemed louder than any noise coming from the cars on the road beyond.
‘What a turnout! The whole village seems to be at the fair today.’ commented Dr Watkins while helping Reverend Green ease the crowd out of God’s house.
‘I don’t think it’s even a fifth!’ replied the reverend dryly. ‘But we have kept our number of visitors steady for three years running. I pray the Lord we keep getting new shops opening on Wimbledon High Street. Do you remember the year both the antiques shop and the Korean deli closed down? I could count the number of visitors at the fair on the palm of my hand, including you and me. New shops bring novelty, excitement…’
‘…and funding.’ added Dr Watkins.
‘It goes without saying. God helps those who help themselves.’ commented the reverend.
‘Especially if their business is in the cake and sweets department.’ added again Dr Watkins with another pinch of irony Reverend Green was trying to ignore altogether.
The two men had known each other for a long time, longer than they could remember. Being both members of the Wimbledon Association of Independent Shops, WAIS for short, the two men felt responsible for the local community and wanted local businesses to flourish. As well as being curator of the Wimbledon Museum, Dr Watkins was also chairman of the WAIS itself. It usually meant he had to attend each and every one of the fairs organised throughout the village during the year. The recurring one at Saint Mary’s Church was relatively small but it still took its toll on him, having to organise it every month. The curator felt obliged, knowing the reverend lacked organisational skills outside what were his holy duties within the confinement of Saint Mary’s Church. Reverend Green was thankful for Dr Watkins’s support and always returned the favour with one or two packs of chocolate digestives, which the curator craved on a daily basis.
‘Let’s make our way to the fair.’ suggested Reverend Green peering through the main church door to check no-one had been left behind after the service.
He and Dr Watkins were the last to leave the church steps, bringing up the rear. They followed the crowd to the green enclosure and took position in one of the wider gaps between the stalls. From there, they could admire the beauty of Saint Mary’s Church in its entirety, standing alone on the top of Wimbledon Hill, distant from any house or building on every side. The church steeple stood high up in the clear blue sky of late September. The golden rooster at the top of its spire swirled round as the gentle breeze told it where to point; it shimmered at each turn as it met the high sun of noon. The grey and white pattern of the church tower, made of stone and bricks combined, seemed to shimmer too under the direct sunlight, making it all look more solid, more glorified; it was as if it shone with its own inner light. A bunch of balloons flew up in the sky, cutting across the view and rising up above the steeple and beyond. The laughter of children running nearby caught the two old men’s attention for a moment.
‘Despite first impressions, I must say it is quite a turn-out.’ commented Reverend Green gladly.
He observed a family approaching a stall selling frames of hand-made paintings of Wimbledon. The mother leaned over, captured by their beauty, while the father dragged the two children to join them with the promise of delicious sweets if they behaved.
‘Is Viviane here already?’ asked Reverend Green remembering something suddenly.
‘I believe so.’
‘And the new fellow? The baker?’
‘Well, if he’s on time…’
Dr Watkins’s words were cut off by the sound of tyres skidding on the asphalt followed by a melodic jingle, which played slightly in and out of tune. The music echoed from a crackling speakerphone attached to the roof of a tiny yellow Fiat 500. The tune sped up and down as the little car bumped off the main road and worked its way onto a small empty patch at the edge of the enclosure where other cars were parked. Enrico LoTrova rolled down the window and pulled himself up while keeping one hand on the steering wheel. His thick, wavy hair was held back by a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses perched on his head. He had a beckoning smile as he waved his hand to the confused crowd by the stands, some still trying to make out what was happening, some jumping back afraid of being run over. Viviane was sitting in the passenger’s seat but could not help leaning over to hold the wheel before the crazy Italian baker breached all the rules of road safety.
‘Easy Enrico! This is my car, and you are not at the Grand Prix of Monza!’ she cried out.
‘If you want to make an entrance, make it look good!’ replied back Enrico without breaking his smile to the crowd.
Enrico leaned back on the driver’s seat and pulled the handbrake while swerving to the left. The little Fiat 500 skidded and U-turned on itself. Viviane cringed at the screeching sound and grabbed the door handle to hold herself steady. Enrico kept his grip on the wheel, quickly straightened the car and put it into reverse gear. He then squeezed the little Fiat 500 in between two bulky Land Rovers, rear bumper first, and hit the brakes. The carillon-like music played on for a few seconds after Enrico had killed the engine. He made one last wave out of the car window while Viviane stepped out of the car a little dizzy and a little embarrassed in front of the gob-smacked crowds. She smiled to keep up appearances and dashed to open the boot as planned. It was clear to the crowds the baker’s show was not over yet. The music stopped abruptly, and the baker’s thick voice came thundering through the crackling speakerphone.
‘Goood moorrrning, Wimbledonians! The Wynnman bakery is here to offer delicious bread and special pastries. Come over if you have a sweet tooth and try these fresh sfogliatelle!’
The boot opened with a burst of confetti and revealed a display of boxes and trays filled with bread of all shapes and sizes, plus open boxes filled with sweet and savouring delicacies. The children were the first to take a step forward, grabbing the free sfogliatelle from Viviane’s hands and smudging their mouths with sweet ricotta cream or nutty chocolate fillings oozing from the shell-shaped layers of thin pastry. The parents tried to hold them back until they could no longer, so they too ended up joining the free tasting Enrico had carefully planned. Visitors crowded around the Fiat 500 to try and get a taste of what The Wynnman bakery had to offer. The other stalls could only look on with envy as his cakes and sweets were quickly devoured. After only a few months since opening The Wynnman bakery in Wimbledon Village, the Italian baker had started to make a name for himself at the local fairs.
‘Is he always so theatrical?’ whispered Reverend Green to Dr Watkins once the initial shock faded, and the fair resumed its normal course.
‘Try one of those pastries first and then you tell me if it is worth all of this!’ said Dr Watkins with a wink.