FUN? FAIR?

A reflection on the truly awful British funfair.

FUN? FAIR?

A reflection on the truly awful British funfair.

Somewhere along the line, I’ve become middle aged. I’ve suspected it for some time, what with me liking to wear slippers and making a noise when I get out of a chair. However, my rapid descent into old age was proved beyond any doubt the last time I went to went to a 'Fun Fair'. To be precise, it was 'The Hoppings' on the Town Moore here in Newcastle. A half mile long nightmare stretch of mud, misery and flashing lights which rocks up regularly in mid June every year turning the city's free fields near St. James Park into a Neon lit version of 'The Battle Of The Bastards', only more violent.

The expectation: eat candyfloss and hot dogs until sick, go on all manner of life threatening rides, not really caring if the rides are held together with sellotape. A good time is had by all.

The reality: walk around a windy field for a bit, tutting at things. Shake head at the fact that the rides are held together with sellotape, exclaim that “you wouldn’t get me on that death trap.” Fail to even get excited at prospect of winning copyright infringing knock off toys. Go home for a nice cup of tea. 

It never used to be like this. I used to love the fair with a passion bordering on wanting to marry it. It was up there with Christmas and trips to Whitley Bay arcades for excitement value. But somewhere down the line I got old and boring. Since you probably don’t want to read about me having a nice cup of tea and doing the large print puzzles in Chat magazine, instead I’m going to tell you about the top 5 best things at the fair that I remember from my childhood.

1. Hook-A-Duck.

Hook a Duck is brilliant because it was impossible for me to lose at it. Even I can just about manage to hold a stick and point it at a plastic duck. Admittedly, this wasn’t always the case when I was a kid. Sometimes the bloke running the stall would get so fed up with my clumsy attempts to manipulate the Hook a Duck pole without taking his eye out that he would just grab the end of my pole and attach a duck to it. In my head this was perfectly valid, and in no way made me a loser who failed to even win at a ‘prize every time’ stall.

Hook a Duck is also ace because it’s the fairground’s premier spot for winning shit. I don’t mean this in a Jay-Z ‘You ain’t winning shit’ kind of way, rather that you can win all sorts of crap. The following prizes are staples on every Hook a Duck stall in the land:

– knock off Disney soft toys, possibly with the face of one character on the body of another character.

– a dead goldfish.

– a plastic ‘action doll’ whose arms have detached themselves while the doll is still in the packaging.

– key rings featuring things and people that were the height of fashion three years beforehand.

As a way to tempt gullible young children into parting with their money, the stall would be festooned with ‘big’ prizes, all hanging off the roof, daring you to try and win them. The big prizes were usually giant soft toys that vaguely resembled a cartoon or video game character you’d heard of. To be honest, the big soft toys could have looked like Jeffrey Archer and I’d still have been desperate to win them. It goes without saying that I never won a big prize, not ever. I don’t know anyone who did. There must be a way of winning them – maybe you have to save up your ‘wins’ or something? But come on, what kid is really going to have the self control necessary for that? It’s always much better to win a shit wallet, ‘fashion comb’ or broken yo-yo, because at least you get to play with it NOW.

2. Waltzer.

The favourite ride of chavs everywhere, who will compete to see who can go on the most times without dying or getting thrown out of the fair for constantly breaking the standing/sitting rules. And the ride rules are as follows – "SIT THE FUCK DOWN!!"

I had a bad experience on the Waltzer when I was nine. I went on with my dad and somehow, we managed to be put in a car where the bar wouldn’t fasten down properly, and as a result spent the next three minutes getting flung around the car, holding on for our lives while accompanied by Motorhead's 'Ace Of Spades'. It's fair to say I’ve been in funner situations than that. Needless to say we escaped with our lives, but for those three minutes I had visions of getting flung out of the ride car, hurtling through the air at 7000 miles an hour before landing on my face. The chavs had no such worries, and would happily spend the entire duration of the ride attempting to stand up, attempting to undo the bar that’s been put there to stop them from dying, or attempting to have sex with birds wearing white tracksuits with impossibly tight topknots, again to the accompaniment of, what in hindsight would have probably have been some brilliant early 80's Belgian New Beat or Italo Disco.

3.Dodgems.

I’ve never understood why they’re called Dodgems. What is it you’re supposed to dodge? It certainly isn’t other cars, because everyone knows the sole purpose of this ride is to tear about and crash into as many people as possible. The people who named this ride are clearly idiots.
Dodgems are another thing I’m quite good at, because you don’t have to do any normal driving, like remembering to go in a straight line or indicating. You can indicate if you want to, but Dodgems style indicating involves shouting “YOU’RE ON MY FUCKING LIST, PAL!” at any small kids in a nearby car, who will then look at you and cry. When you’re a kid and you go on the Dodgems, not only do you have to wear one of those stupid horrible seat belts that attempt to actually saw you in half, you also have to be accompanied by an adult, who will do all the driving because you can’t reach the pedals. This results in you sitting there being bored, while the adult drives you round in nice, steady circles, all the time making sure to not accidentally bump into anyone, but instead giving them a nice smile and cheery as if you're an extra in 'Brideshead Revisited' as they pass by.

This is a shit way to do the Dodgems. The correct way to do the Dodgems is as follows –

1. Get in a Dodgem car. Do not, under any circumsatnces, bother with seat belt.

2. Pick the person you least like the look of.

3. Spend the entire ride ramming the shit out of that person’s car. Bonus points if you can keep them in a corner for the entire ride.

4. Run off after the ride before the person can punch you in the face.

4. Ferris Wheel.

Ferris Wheels are the worst ride in the world. The only exception to this is that rollercoaster in Japan where you’re only strapped in by one finger, but I might have dreamed that. When you go on a Ferris Wheel, you sit in a rickety, swinging cage thing. If you’re on a date, you sit next to your date. Sometimes, if you’re riding alone, they pair you up with someone else who’s riding alone, so not only do you spend the entire ride in abject terror, you also have to make endless small talk with a woman called Sheila, who has chosen to wear culottes. Assuming you survive this part, you then spend the next five minutes going round and round and round. Ferris Wheels are not meant to be ridden on, they’re meant to be blown over by a stiff gust of wind. Look at that picture. That does not look safe. When I have something circular and flat, like a bagel, I do not immediately think ‘Oh I’ll put it on its side, that will keep it nice and steady.’ I lay it down flat. Then I put ham and a shitload of Phillidelphia cheese on it. You can’t even put ham on a Ferris Wheel.

5. Ghost Train.

I haven’t been on many Ghost Trains, but I’ve been on a few. The scariest one I ever saw was on holiday in Folkstone in '83, and I never even rode it. That’s how much of a coward I was. Of course, these days it’s different. These days I delight in trundling past plastic skellingtons, bits of crepe paper that waft annoyingly in your face, and punching the fibreglass demons with red lightbulbs for eyes. As a grown up, the most frightening things about Ghost Trains tend to be the following –

1. The fact that the man operating the ride has clearly drunk 9 cans of Stella.

2. The possibility that the kid in the car in front of you will do a shit.

Certainly, the ride itself isn’t scary. In fact, just like wild animals, Ghost Trains are more scared of you than you are of them. Take, for example, the Ghost Train we encountered last year. It was so scared of me and my nephew that the minute it saw us coming it broke down. that’s how much it didn’t want us to ride it!

Bonus round: The burger van.

Always my favourite part of the fair, because I am a big fat pig. Normally run by a man called Les and his pissed off looking wife Pam. They must serve you with extremely bad grace and throw your change at your head, otherwise it doesn’t count. When I was a kid the burger van would always be my first port of call, because I was a greedy little shit. As soon as my chocolate smeared hands were free of whatever KitKat or Wagon Wheel I’d been eating on the way to the fair, I would grab a parent and drag them to meet Les and Pam and to buy me all the food in the world. The food from the burger van is some of the most delicious food known to man, especially when the hamburgers are those weird flat hamburgers that might be out of a tin. Other brilliant food that must be purchased from the van includes:

– a hot dog that is three inches of dog inside six inches of bun.

– a huge ‘dummy’ made from sugar and E-numbers.

– a lukewarm can of Tizer.

– a bag of candy floss that you’re not allowed to open until you get home, by which time you’ve been sick so you don’t bother opening it, and then it goes all hard.

– for the parents – a polystyrene cup of tea, containing liquid that actually burns your tongue out of your mouth if you even look at it.

And there we have it – everything you could possibly need for a super fun time at the fair. If you’ve done the fair correctly, you will leave with your arms full of dangerous, illegal soft toys and your jumper full of sick. You will only go to sleep that night after an hour of begging your parents to take you back for one last go on the Hook a Duck, despite the fact that the fair closed three hours ago.

Of course, now I am middle aged, my evenings have stopped being filled with candyfloss and sick, and are now filled with Ovaltine and regret. C'est la vie. X


 

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