I won't be playing very much poker over the next 2 weeks, although obviously I'll try to fit it in, its that time of year when I do my bit for the community and help bring a bit of tourism to my island. The first Battle of Flowers took place on 9th August 1902, as a celebration for the coronation of Edward VII. The event was so successful that the islanders decided to hold it annually. It began as a flower parade, but along the route the flowers were torn off and thrown to the spectators. They threw them back, and the Battle began. During Jersey's tourism high of the 60's & 70's the Battle would draw audiences of around 60,000, but that number has now declined to around 30,000 partly due to the seating limitations now in place, and partly because of the increasing cost of flying in and out of this little piece of rock in the ocean. It is now so expensive to get here from London that you could travel to just about any other European city for less, but some would say the journey is worth it :o)
"The sun always shines on Battle Day"
It's true, even when there have been downpours 20 minutes before the parade starts, soaking spectators and floats, the sun will always make an appearance during the parade. The floats are adapted from motorised vehicles, typically farm tractors. A frame of welded reinforced girders, rods, timber and chicken wire & papier mache is added to this, with the flowers then glued to the frame. Members of my family, especially my Mum, have been helping in this process of creation representing St Clement year after year since they moved to the island in the late 60's, and in that time have helped to win the top honour in the parade, the Prix d'Honneur many times, most recently taking a hat-trick of firsts from 2002-2004. That will no doubt make it particularly difficult to take top honours again this year. For decades St Clement have relished in friendly rivalry with the Optimists Club, who always produce superb designs and quality of flowering year after year, I remember ever year we arrive at the parade ground and see their float I think "That's incredible, we havent got a chance this time". The "Ops" won in 2000 & 2001 so they will no doubt be looking for that winning feeling again.
"No sleep the night before Battle"
So the next two weeks will hopefully make interesting reading for you guys too. I'll try to keep posting as much as possible with updates to where we're at, generally the plan is something like this...
Friday 10am - First shipment of flowers arrive in boxes from UK/Holland - all the stems have to be stripped of most leaves, cut to about 2/3rds length and placed in buckets of water.
Saturday 10am - Second shipment arrives, same process.
Sunday - ideally the "wood and nails" contruction phase is over - Never gonna happen!
Monday 8pm - This is the earliest that flower heads can be placed on the contruction, because by thursday afternoon they will start to shrivel and die if they are put on any earlier.
Tuesday 9am-2am - This is a minor mental day where everyone finishes what they should have had done by Sunday on the building front, it is also a big day of flowering on the float, but because there's still a day left everyone is in a "do it properly, get it perfect" mind set.
Wednesday 9am-10pm - Major mental day. Everyone very busy flowering and doing little else, focus is on the production line from flower cutters - runners - gluers - stickers. Set pieces completed earlier in the year are postioned and fixed to the float.
Wednesday 10pm- 2am - The Dead zone. This is always a wierd time, somewhere in here one can go from panic to aloof, exhaustion to satisfaction in the blink of an eye. It usually looks as if there is less to do than there really is at this time. People from other floats start to wander in to see how you're getting on now that they've finished and are off to bed for a good nights sleep.
Thurday 2am - 6am - The Red Zone. There's usually a dozen or so people left, some who have been sticking flowers since 9am. It's a marathon and time is running out, everyone tries to hit a second wind of awakeness and spur on to get the thing finished in time, its no longer "Get it perfect" its more "Just get the thing covered, whatever it takes"
Thursday 6am - Finished or not the float has to leave the shed it is in and make its way to the arena. Last year we were so late getting finished that we actually had to take flowers and glue to the parade ground and were sticking them on up to 5 minutes before judging.
On the Thursday afternoon there is a daytime parade, Friday evening a carnival moonlight parade & fireworks and then Saturday night is guaranteed one of the best party nights out of the year, the exhibitors night. Held for the presentation of the prizes, it is the communal release of the collective tension from 600 tired, emotional islanders who can only see flower heads when they close their eyes. It is a mentally rowdy night, typically resulting in broken cutlery and table dancing.
That's the idea anyway ! Late night poker sessions are a good prep for the lack of sleep I'll have on Wednesday night, it really is worth every ounce of effort thats put into it. It's good for the soul, being surrounded by good people with a common goal and acheiving it is one of the best feelings in the world when you have given your all. Just getting the thing finished and out there is an experience full of pride and joy, and to win - usually announced to you after having been awake for 33 hours - can be very..... emotional !