Skiffle music and hot dogs at the pony fair
The final Thursday in October, when I was a little chil' in the mid 1950s, was a highlight-treat-day providing great uncle Jack came up trumps and picked up mum, dad and me in his big black Austin Twelve car.
But not my aged maiden aunt. "All that noise and din," she announced, wrinkling up her nose." Crowds of people jostling into you, and all they ole fry smells. Here's half a crown (12½p) for you. Don't go wasting it on Cheap Jacks. And auntie likes brandy snaps!"
In a yap-yelp of mustard and tomato sauce, hot dogs in a sizzle of fat nuzzled their way out of red and white striped kennel-tents filling the air with a bark of fried onions. The sky, a siren-scream of skiffle music, engines whirring and people shouting. A sky filled with gantries, towers and turrets carved out of wood and melded from metal-proscenium arches, gilded figures and mighty chrome machines. Smashing into my brain a galaxy of flashing coloured lights.
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Roll up! Roll up! All the fun of Whitelegg's Fair! Exotic frolics, pneumatics and hydraulics. Lurch and bounce, undulate and spin. Whirling, twirling and swirling around. "Step up sonny! Six pence a ride! The louder you scream, the faster you ride!"
Rifle range, roll a coin, pick a straw, throw a dart, toss a ball, pitch a hoop. Any number under twenty and over thirty guaranteed to win a prize. "Sorry young sir it's touching the line. Everyone a winner. Have another go. Three balls a tanner. Have another throw."
A bag of popcorn, a sticky toffee apple, a candy floss beard on a stick and a bar of pink and white coconut ice. Just a shilling left.
"Don't bother throwing for a coconut. All stuck down with glue," advised dad. "And no chance of winning five bob there," he continued as we passed the boxing booth. "Nuts and bolts sewn into their gloves."
A man on a crate offering a box with a watch in it for only half a crown. "Aunt Nell's Cheap Jack," laughed mum. To which dad added: "There's a man planted in the crowd. He buys the first box and shows off the watch. Everyone else buys rubbish."
All around the fairground, booths containing sights only found in my darkest nightmares. "Step this way for the main attraction!" The tentacled monster from the deep, a mermaid and a two headed sheep. Up to a tent where dad paid our sixpences to a smiling man with a leather money bag tied around his waist. Into the first of the freak shows. My mouth dropping open as snakes of all lengths, sizes and colours squirmed and slithered over the body of an almost naked lady reclining on her velvet cushion couch inside of a large glass tank." Had their mouths stitched up or their poison bits removed," said dad in a knowing tone.
Past Rat Woman's tent. "Give her a miss. See them furry varmints for nort back home," continued Dad. Into the realm of the tattooed lady. Clothed only in a bikini and a multitude of pictures, the illustrated lady rose up from her throne and flexed her muscles. Instantly, birds and butterflies fluttered into life. In a ripple of wings they soared through suns, moons, stars and planets. She smiled at me, and I blushed as she beckoned to me, before resuming her gilded throne.
"And we'll give the fattest woman in the world a miss," said mum. To which dad added with a wink at mum, "A couple of years ago it was so hot that some of her fat melted and drowned a farmer and his young son."
Into the tent of the smallest man alive. A pistol shot as he rode past me on a miniature pony. A little man even shorter than me, and a farmer tried to poke him off with his shooting stick amid guffaws of laughter. Another pistol shot and the midget highway man climaxed his act by removing his mask, and I glimpsed a look of sadness in his eyes. Past the lair of the bearded lady, and I grinned to myself as I thought of the great aunt with her wispy white moustache growing into a full beard down over her chest.
A walk up the hill to see the corralled ponies from Exmoor brought in to be sold. Back to the car, the bag of brandy snaps purchased with my last shilling, in my hand. A final view through the back window, day-dreaming of what it would look like at night lit up with a million light bulb multicoloured stars and a bomb-blitz of screams, laughter and engines. The car turned a corner and the day dissolved into my memory, wrapped in the bars of the latest skiffle song played as I'd clung on tightly to a carousel galloper. "Last train to San Fernando, if you miss this one you'll never get another one, Diddy-Diddy-Bom-Bom to Bampton pony fair!"