Friday, August 31, 2012

All the Fun of the Fair

Oh the traveling fair. I grew up on a main road in Birmingham and once or twice a year the noisy, misshapen lorries of a traveling fair would grunt up the hill and half the neighborhood kids, including my brother and I would run alongside, praying that it would pitch close by. Our parents, not so eager were probably eying the peeling paint on the trucks, and thinking about us whizzing through the air in rusty metal boxes screwed together by the spotty, sunburned teenagers that rode past, perched on the back of the folded trucks waving at all the girls.

When we got lucky and the fair pitched up in our park, my friends and I would empty our piggy banks, put on our boob-tubes and ra-ra skirts and head off, promising our parents that we wouldn’t let any of the spotty fair boys anywhere near us. In fact, promising not to let any of the boys from up the road, or from the grammar school, or from the youth club near us either. No boys.

The moment that one of our dads dropped us off at the park gates, our ‘boys’ would crawl out from their hiding place in the bushes and we’d all takes gulps from the jam jars full of mixed spirits that we’d pilfered from our parent’s liquor cabinets. An inch of vodka, an inch of gin, an inch of cointreau, an inch of whisky. And with that vile-tasting alcoholic mess working its way through our bodies we’d enter the fair.

It was always exciting. The clashing music and the lights and the jostling crowd. The smell of frying onions and hot bodies, machine grease and candy floss. We’d ride the bumper cars, the helter-skelter, the waltzers and if we were drunk enough, or just feeling dangerous, we’d go on the wall of death, now tamely renamed the ‘Spin Bar’. Afterwards, when the jam jars and piggy banks were empty, we’d wander around on the arm of that week’s boy and hope he’d win us a cuddly toy or a goldfish with a good throw of the hoopla. That week’s boy would be hoping  he’d win us a cuddly toy or a goldfish too so he’d stand a better chance of getting his hand up our tops, or better still, down our knickers.

But that was the eighties, and now I’m grown with kids of my own and the travelling fair that pitched to the playground we visited yesterday didn’t look so glamourous or full of adventure. It was noon and they cranked up the music and the mood in the playground changed as mums and dads started to dance a little, smiling at each other while their kids looked on bemused or embarrassed. I didn’t dance. I wondered how I’d advanced to an age where I might be confused with these other parents, these uncool people gyrating to Rod Stewart in the park.

So I packed up our stuff and took the kids over to the fair. It looked kinda sad in the bright afternoon sunlight but the clashing music and spotty teenagers and tired, peeling paint were just the same. The kids ran round, wide-eyed with excitement at the flashing lights and cranking old machinery. I smelled the grease and the frying onions and hot bodies and candy floss and I wondered if, in another ten years when I pick up one of my kids and their friends up from their night out at the travelling fair, I will believe the story about why Emma is puking at the side of the road. “She ate a hotdog from the burger van, honest mum”

And as I eye the rustling bushes, I wonder if I’ll believe that my daughter, dewy-eyed and clutching a plastic bag with a goldfish in it has really just developed amazing hoopla skills.

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