Come, Franco-philes, to the South Bank, where for the last five years the storming of the Bastille has been celebrated in the most revolutionary part of London. And it’s going from strength to strength.
Kath Serkis, event founder, explains why: “Events have to come from the heart’ there has to be passion behind them.” Nothing could be truer in reference to the events of 1789, but how does this work in a rather wet summer in South London?
“In France, they celebrate Bastille Day in small towns with a Bal Populaire, like a Fireman’s Ball. Anyone can come. You don’t need a ticket. It’s a party for the people.”
She was determined that she could recreate this atmosphere in London, but it was not easy and many eminent south bank organisations turned her down to begin with (they all joined in later of course!). The turning point was when she met Jamal who owns La Cave, a cellar restaurant in Borough High Street.
If you are at London Bridge, head out from the station as if you are going to Southwark Cathedral which is just over the road. One second before you descend those steps, look right and you will see La Cave’s courtyard below you, all this week festooned with bunting.
“It’s the perfect setting. A traditional cobble-terraced bar and restaurant, where you can play petanque, listen to the accordion and enjoy a cold bottle of lager. Or a little Absinthe!”
All through the week leading up the the big day, teams of London office workers come to the cafe after work and play Petanque to the sound of the accordionist. “Over the years, more and more local businesses have joined in.” I spoke to a nice looking professional chap in a suit who was eyeing up his team-mates latest shot. “Who are your team playing against tonight?”. “I don’t know,” he said. “They just turn up.”
Nearby another middle-aged man was busy with pots of nail varnish, putting little stripes on the boules to identify them in the match whilst moaning loudly about burglars, the weather and the state of the economy. “They used to do it like this, and now they do it like this!” he shouts, in reference to my amateur iPad movie making.
On the 14th itself, the whole borough joins in, with a street party, theatrical acts, a music cabaret, a dedicated food-fest at nearby Borough Market, a Waiter’s race, Boules and Cycling games and an alternative fireworks finale.
“It gets better each year, because everyone here is behind it” says Kath. “We love living in London, and we want to celebrate like the French do, right here in the heart of it.”
For more go to http://www.bastilledaylondon.org