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Monday, 30 September 2013

Any More Fairs Please?

As the 'statchits' will be coming to Burton at the end of this week, I thought this would be topical-ish.

“Look, all they do is go round and round and I promise you we won’t go up high!”

Even to my young and innocent ears, this doesn’t sound particularly convincing.  More like No. 3 in the ‘Great Lies of Our Time’, just after “The cheque’s in the post” and “It’s just what I’ve always wanted”. 

We are at Burton Statute Fair, popularly known as ‘The Statchits’, always held on the first Monday and Tuesday in October.  It is the mid-1960s and my Mum, Dad and myself are standing by ‘The Rockets’.  We are going through our annual ritual of Dad trying to persuade me to go on with him. ‘The Rockets’ were one of the main rides that appeared every year.  Shaped like a child’s drawing of a rocket, each car was attached to a central column by a spoke and the riders could make the car rise or fall, with an ear-splitting escape of compressed air. Every year he tried to talk me into this and every year, I refused point blank.  This was always a huge disappointment to my Dad and he did what any father would do under the circumstances, he sulked.  My wife tells me that I could sulk for England, well this is where I learned my trade.

This would actually be my second of four trips to ‘The Statchits’.  The first would be on Sunday night as we walked up Branstone Road, under the Leicester Line Bridge, to see the lorries, vans and caravans all lined up at the Burton boundary, waiting for permission to enter the town.  In those days, the Fair was not allowed to begin setting up until the evening service at St. Modwen’s Parish Church, in the Market Place, had finished.  There would then be a hectic rush into town and the Fair would come to life in a matter of hours.  The fast-food and gift stalls would be the first to be open, along with some of the rides for small children, the larger rides would take longer and wouldn’t be open until Monday. 

My Dad had a child-like fascination with Fairs, Circuses and such things, and loved to see the Fair setting up.  My Nanna Whiteland was quite keen too and used to take me for my second visit on the Monday afternoon.  As we walked up Branstone Road, the strains of music and the shouts of the stallholders grew louder and soon we were on the fringes of the Fair in Lichfield Street, where, in the shadow of the Big Wheel, by The Leopard pub, there were donkeys and ponies, and men offering to take your picture with some exotic animal or other.  The only year I managed to persuade my Nanna to allow me to have my photograph taken, there was a queue for the cute monkey, so I got the parrot.  I’m not sure who was the most disappointed about this turn of events, me or the parrot.  I used to enjoy the stall where a ‘real’ Red Indian (usually from Bolton) promised to guess your age to within one year, or give you a prize.  I always used to come away as the proud owner of some ill-defined ‘silver’ trinket.  We used to have a go on a few stalls, tour the offerings in the Market Place and High Street, up to the junction with Station Street, and then finally walk back down New Street, until the Fair finally petered out around the General Post Office.

Philip and friend at The Statchits, October 1961

Monday night was, and is, the main night of ‘The Statchits’ and that was when we went as a family.  The Fair always had a more exciting, even dangerous, atmosphere in the chill Autumn night and the lights, crowds and music brought a touch of exotica to downtown Burton.

Tuesday evening, I often went to the Fair by myself.  It always rains on Tuesday Statchits night.  This is a given.  I don’t know why, it just is.  I once spent ages on a ‘Roll the Ball’ stall because; I was the only customer, the rain was coming down sideways, and the stallholder was waiting to be told that she could pack up, so she kept giving me free tries.  I still didn’t win anything, and I didn’t go on ‘The Rockets’ either!

This story is taken from Crutches for Ducks, part of the 'nostalgedy collection' which includes Steady Past Your Granny's and the latest collection, A Kick at the Pantry Door