Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Stoned again in Gala Week

Pictured above: The opening of the Budleigh Salterton Gala Week and fete by Pippa Quelch of BBC Radio Devon, showing the 2010 Gala Queen, King and one of the Princesses

If the 2010 pebble-building competition proved anything it was that the organisers are level-headed people who've learnt not to trust the Met Office and not to panic faced with the vagaries of the English climate.

Two days before the event the weather forecast was absolutely dire, with graphics showing a very black-looking cloud and two equally black-looking raindrops on the Met Office website forecast for the Budleigh Salterton area.

And Gala Week started on Saturday with highly unpredictable showers and drizzle dampening the brief spells of sunshine.

Umbrellas and anoraks were much in evidence as fete-goers dodged the showers. My heart went out to the Lions Club people who'd planned this fun family event for Bank Holiday Monday. What on earth would they do?

I searched the Lions' website at http://www.budleighlions.org/ for an urgent warning bulletin that pebble-building had been postponed or even abandoned this year. But no, there was no hint of change to the official programme; maybe that's just because Budleigh webmasters might be a bit on the sleepy side I thought uncharitably.

But yesterday morning brought blue skies and a pleasantly mild breeze, perfect for a day at the beach. There were even a couple of hardy swimmers in the sea when we arrived, though I noted that not many of the pebble-builders were in beachwear.

The competition's two categories of 'tallest' creation and 'best construction and design' demand qualities of coordination and imagination in the pebble-builders.

I could just feel the high drama in this scene as the pebble tower inched skywards with the clock steadily ticking away.

"Oh no! It's a bit bent!" they realise. The deadline for the competition's end is approaching and are they going to have time to straighten it, or is it just going to be a 'Leaning Tower of Pisa'?

But it was time to move on if I was going to see anything like the full range of pebblepower on the beach. Two 15-year-olds, Merrick Gigg from Exmouth and his friend Henry Wood from Budleigh had taken an hour and half to create this fine octopus choosing different-coloured pebbles. Budleigh's Mayor Tom Wright, wearing his chain of office, watched as the boys kept the creature alive with bucketfuls of sea-water.

Tracy Shiel from Budleigh with her sons Jake and Ben were proud of their lighthouse with its bright colours. All over the beach now I noticed much sloshing with sea-water as the deadline approached. Contestants were desperate to show off to the judges the different hues in their pebble-paintings.

I thought at first that this creature was a blacklegged quinquapus but the Steele family who'd made it told me it was just a 'children's fish.' "It's very ambitious," I commented. "Yes, two hours of hard slog," they told me, "and we've only just met the deadline."

The Church family, based partly in Budleigh and partly in Derbyshire, had made this mermaid. I overheard a suggestion that Mayor Wright made for its improvement but as this is a family-friendly site I won't repeat it. He did concede that she was a "modest mermaid."

Sue Chapman and her family had pebble-painted this picture of a fisherman in a boat. Budleigh resident Sue's been appointed as press officer for the town's Art Club http://budleighsaltertonartclub.co.uk/ , so I promised that I would be visiting their Spring Bank Holiday exhibition in the Public Hall.

I also found a strange square-headed fish, though from this angle it looks perfectly normal with its diamond-shaped head, so maybe that was a clever and deliberate design trick.

Another fish had been artfully created with a 3D effect, and I do like its red eye.

This is Geraldine the giraffe, who won first prize in the 'Best construction and design' category for the Bond family. Her head with that subtle touch of green eyebrows is on the left of the photo. They must have worked hard to collect all those sandy-coloured pebbles.

And this turned out to be the tallest pebble-tower in the 2010 competition, coming in at 40¼ inches - nobody mentioned how many millimetres I'm pleased to say - and winning a prize for the Everest family team of 14-year-old Darren together with Lee and Megan. You can see the judges take this event very seriously indeed, using that spirit level.

And so do the contestants. This close-up of the winning pebble-tower shows that its construction is as intricate as any medieval cathedral. Every year, as Mayor Wright remarked in his speech at the awards ceremony, the competition gets more and more difficult to judge. But I'm sure that with its great family atmosphere both pebblers and visitors will always find it to be a highlight of Gala Week.

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