So the clocks went back and, completely in keeping with the general theme, spring suddenly sprung, almost overnight. The birds started singing at 4am this morning (bless their funny little body clocks), and yesterday, a traveling fairground started to set up camp in Victoria Park, directly in the line of vision from my kitchen window.
A traveling fair always looks far more romantic from a misty distance (in both the physical and the hazy memory sense) than it does close up. Dusty teddy bears hanging from a noose along the edges of the rifle range, dead goldfish floating in plastic bags full of septic water, the stench of rancid hot dogs filling air already thick with clouds of burning sugar and techno-techno-techno at full volume – that, unfortunately, is the reality of an up close and personal visit to the faraway, magical vision that I’ll be gazing at every evening from my ivory tower perspective for the next fortnight or so. But for someone who lives, as I pretty much do, in an optimistic half-dream, the traveling fair is a magical place, full of almost supernatural wonder.
I remember my dad taking me to the traveling fair on the first day it arrived in Sefton Park, Liverpool. I must have been about nine years old. The grass – yet to be trodden underfoot or turned into mud by the inevitable rain – glowed an eerie, emerald green in the reflection from the lights. The soft pink candyfloss on a stick was yet to be the diabetic nightmare that it represents to me now. I loved watching brave riders claim their pillion seats on the Speedway and teenage girls letting rip with well rehearsed, attention-grabbing shrieks as their Farrah Fawcett copycat hairstyles and billowing flares got all mussed up on the Waltzers. Excited children with parents far less paranoid about safety than mine (at the time, at least) kicked their feet in the swaying carriages of the Big Wheel as my dad and I took to a Bumper Car, R Dean Taylor’s ‘There’s a Ghost in my House’ blasting through the speakers as my dad instructed me to avoid collision with other riders. Avoid collision? That, surely, was the whole point of our 40p, thrill-seeking adventure. Talking of which …
My sister (who would have been around 13 at the time) set off to explore the fairground at a much more grown up time of day; oooh, it must have been almost 7pm when she and her friends Farrah-flared off in the direction of the park. “Don’t talk to the fairground boys”, warned my mum, referring to the louche louts who slouched around the rides taking money but looked like they should have been in the Bay City Rollers instead. “They’re drifters”, she said, “and they don’t wash their hands after going to the loo”. In my mind, the drifter aspect explained their dirty bland smiles, the loo thing their dirty blond hair. But if I’d have been my sister, I’d have skipped the rides those boys were promoting and gone off in search of another kind of daring adventure with one of them instead. Ah, so easy to say, with hindsight! But I was way too young. Today, it’s the memory of that jewel-coloured emerald green grass that stayed with me ever since – and you know what? I’m very grateful for that.
So will I go to the fair this spring? Probably not - I’m too old to be excited by the lure of a pillion seat, with or without the allure of a superficially glamorous transient urging me to go faster. Just knowing that either option is a mere hop, skip and a jump away is enough excitement for me.