I was walking my dog in Victoria Park last week when I spotted the stalls, sideshows and rides of a fairground down near the ice rink.
Maybe I’ve been going around with my eyes closed but I can’t remember seeing one for donkey’s years and it brought back distant memories of ‘going to the fair’ as a child, a teenager, a badly behaved ‘youth’ and a parent with wide-eyed weans.
Every year the showmen turned up at Bell’s Meadow in the days before some madmen decided to build a road right through the middle which seemed pretty pointless at the time and is even dafter today.
Up would go the waltzer and the chair-o-planes, the ghost train, the distorting mirrors, the coconut shies, shooting galleries and the glitzy tombola stalls covered with quality prizes which nobody ever seemed to win.
As a child it all seemed quite exotic and a bit scary walking through the avenues of garish coloured and flashing lights surrounded by the loud distinctive fairground music, which seemed to keep the dark chilly night at bay.
The carousels with buses, trains and wooden horses plunging up and down were the main attractions along with the candy floss, a large feathery concoction of pink spun sugar on a stick which tasted like the sweet discharge from a chemical factory and stuck all over your face. It was great!
In the days before computers or iPads the amazing magic convex and concave mirrors, twisted our faces and bodies into shapes that amused a more innocent generation.
As teenagers we were more adventurous, showing off our driving skills on the dodgem cars, flying round the big oval surface trying our best to bash one another while facing the wrath of the rather sinister man in charge who threatened to boot us out.
I remember once as a dare coughing up my two bob pocket money for a trip on the ghost train which promised to scare us out of our wits. We all climbed aboard what looked like a school milk trolley with seats and off we went through a curtain into the darkness making a series of sudden 90 degree turns. Spooky music and screams filled the air and every now and then a luminous skeleton would appear, followed by some wet or slimy object brushing your face. Seconds later you were back out in the cool safety of the bright lights. The whole stall was about ten feet square!
In our more reckless early twenties the routine was well established. The King’s Head, Newmarket or Burns Bar for five or six pints, the Broadway Café for a mince pie or fish supper and then across the road to the fair. All aboard the fantastic waltzers spinning around in every direction, hanging on for dear life to the metal bar as the man set your head and supper into a dangerous whirl.
Once recovered it was on to test our skills at the shooting gallery where guys who had fought in the war were winning all the prizes. The coconut shies were a better prospect and with luck you were on your way home to mum with a coconut or at least one of those wee chalk figures – rabbits or squirrels – to present to your delighted parent.
A few days later you’d see your sister chalking the beds on the pavement for a game of peevers with your precious gift. Happy days!