The Extravaganza Fair

Easter Weekend, Anderson Park, Napier
7-8 April 2018, Village Green, Havelock North

By Jess Soutar Barron

I don’t need my tea cup read to see the future. We will all live in tiny houses on wheels, we’ll be off-the-grid, communal nomads homeschooling our wild but talented children. We’ll make things from scratch and use social media to hawk them to our followers. We’ll be very now (in a futuristic way), but also really old-fashioned and homegrown. I’ve seen the future parked up in Taradale (btw: the future is heading to Havelock North as we speak so catch it there if you missed it yesterday).

You may have missed this on your RSS feed but a few years back the Gypsy Fair had a coupe and a splinter group set up on its own. This became the Extravaganza. It’s a tight operation, with none of the tired, tatty, same-ol-same-ol of the earlier iteration.

The journey from the entry archway welcoming visitors, past the stalls and house buses – some Gypsy-tastic, others more modern (and less charming) – is a satisfying feast of aesthetic splendour. There’s the expected quaint and quirky buzz but it’s coupled with a palette of aqua, red and white stripes, sparkles and retro typography, so it hangs together as one offering. It leaves visitors feeling invited and required rather than like an annoying necessity.

Sanctuaries of quiet are dotted throughout, with retro brollies and bunting. Beer crates (with tasteful rimu tops) serve as seating; there are rugs and bean bags to flop upon. It’s not just child-friendly, it’s child-centred. Mine had her first raspberry spider, served from the sweetest little concession stand I’ve ever seen and with a heartfelt Hello and a smile for the child despite the money coming from the Mummy.

Spider-sidebar: Watch out for the gargantuan arachnid prowling the Fair. Even the heavy-set rugby heroes ahead of us yelped and ran.

In the heart of it all is a stage with different acts on the hour all day. The one to either look out for or avoid completely is the Ashton Family Circus. I’ve actually come across these folk twice in as many weeks and the first time I was full of cynicism and chose to leave halfway through rather than watch the two small Oliver Twists cry in the wings. But that was a windy wet afternoon in Wellington. Here we are in Hawke’s Bay and the sun is shining, the air is warm and the two little Twists are merrily prancing and dancing with their parents. The true star is their older sister who is about 10 and a skilled gymnast. On second viewing, I’m convinced: the kids are happy and healthy, the parents make it fun, it’s a quick show and they’re not pushed, and my little Spider-gobbler laughed out loud and squealed: “They’re soooooo adooorrrrabbble”.

As the world seems to get more and more complex, expensive and overwhelming, pockets of delight and wonder like the Extravanganza are welcome panacea. Most of the wares are home- and hand-made, many of the travellers live in outrageous fantasy small homes on wheels (open-to-view for a gold coin), there’s a sniff of steam punk in the air. With house prices rocketing and public transport the pits, with the un-jobbing and un-schooling of our societies, the slow-made and the tiny-house movements, let’s all pack up and hit the road. You can sell the pop-corn; I’ll read the tea leaves.

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