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Memories of 1960’s Funfairs on Hearsall Common

Walking the streets of Bangkok, taking in the many different sounds, smells of street food being prepared, and the unusual sights, some pleasant and some not so pleasant, takes me back to when the travelling Fun Fair would visit our city, in the early sixties.

Every year, they would set up on Hearsall Common, not far from our home. Even if we didn’t have a much money in our pockets, it was interesting to wander around, and watch all the fun of the Fair. The excitement started before arriving at the fairground, when one could hear the music and see the lights of the rides in the distance, and families, old and young, hurrying to get there. I was a ‘people watcher’ at a very young age, as I remember being intrigued by those who worked in the fairgrounds. The fairground workers looked simple but tough, with dark complexions, such as gypsies, others had the appearance of ‘Teddy Boys’ from the fifties’ decade, with their iconic hairstyles, drainpipe trousers and thick sole suede loafers. What young kid did not want to work on the dodgems, hanging on the back of a dodgem car, impressing a couple of good-looking screaming girls, by showing them how to steer through crazy dodgem traffic, coming from all directions?

Wandering around the fairground, one would come across things that we were not accustomed to seeing at that time, such as coconuts, gold fish, tortoises, and the wonderful aromas of toffee apples, candyfloss, and how the hot dogs smelled and tasted far better then, than they do today! I also remember the humming sounds, and smell of diesel from the generators, and the ozone (which some describe as smelling like sparks!) from the electrical-driven dodgem cars and rides. There were the terrified screams of those riding the waltzers or the octopus, to the sound of music such as ‘Rocking Goose’, blasting in the background. I seem to recall that there were steam organs at that time. I would stand and watch those trying their luck on the sideshows, such as the coconut shy. They would throw a small wooden ball at coconuts, sitting on stands, and try, and knock them off, to win a prize. The coconuts were suspiciously fixed very firm to the stands. The satisfaction of knocking a coconut off its stand had far more value than the cheap plastic prizes that were there to win. Occasionally, you would see a lucky winner, strolling around with a premium prize of a goldfish in a plastic bag. Just as today, my curiosity then, always got the better of me, and I would waste the little money I had, that would have been far better spent on the rides. I just could not resist going into the tacky sideshows that invited one to see weird exhibits of freaks, such as the Bearded or Tattooed Lady, Siamese Twins, Tom Thumb or the Leprechaun. I think it cost about sixpence. I would come out, completely confused and disappointed, after seeing worn-out old photographs of ladies with beards and tattoos, and unusual characters who were obviously long-deceased.

The Ghost Train was popular. The carriage would wind its way through dark tunnels, with the effigies of ghosts, and terrifying screams, there was the sound of thunder, the lightning would show just enough light to see Dracula-like figures, homing in on the carriage, large black crows hovering overhead, and human-like skeletons, laying on the ground. It would take you through dark caves, with cobwebs brushing the face, and bats fluttering around, their eyes bright against the darkness.

I visited a fair ground some years later, with a couple of friends, after we had been in a pub, and were far worse the ware from drink. One of them, who was probably a little old, and a little drunk for it, despite our protests, decided he wanted to go for a ride on a ghost train, for old times’ sake. I got a feeling that something was going to happen. Well, he decided to jump out halfway round, and play at being a ghost. He started pulling peoples ears and hair, and screaming at them, as they went past. Grown adults were coming out of the tunnel, and getting off the ride, terrified. My friend was fine, until he tried to get a ride out, and found that on the back of the cars, there was nowhere to stand or hold onto. He reappeared, coming out of the tunnel, hanging around a guy’s throat, who was panic-stricken and screaming his head off.

The guy’s young son, sitting next to him, was looking bored, and wondering what all the fuss was about.

More by this author in his newly-published biography, Happy Jack: Reflections of Growing Up During the Sixties – A Decade of Rebellion, Change and Defining Moments

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