Tag Archives: nostalgia

The funfair

This week, I went to the fair at Brockwell Park. I don’t have a picture of that, but here’s me at another funfair in 1977. I was not a particularly pretty child, nor a thin one, nor one that actually looked all that much like a boy. And what is that coat I’m wearing? But along with a photograph of me and my dad riding the dodgems taken a year later – me marginally cuter, he like the Brummie James Dean – it is one of my favourite images from my youth.

That’s because it was taken at the Epsom Derby funfair, where we went as a family every year. It is almost impossible for an adult to now understand how exciting the funfair is to a small child – the colour and clatter of the rides, the sweet smell of popcorn, onions and candy floss, the sheer thrill of being outside after dark – but this picture brings a lot of that back to me. It’s a pure pleasure, one without any compromises or guilt. By contrast, most grown-up fun tends to come with the feeling that one is doing something one shouldn’t, and will pay for it later, either with a hangover or an empty wallet. Or perhaps that’s just the Catholic in me talking.

When I was a teenager, fairs were still about thrillseeking, just in a different way. There were the rides of course, but now it was more because this was were you went to meet girls (or watch your friends meet girls, or watch your friends talk about how they’d like to meet girls). You also went along in fear/search of some real danger – the possibility of getting chased round the park by the semi-mythical Roundshaw gang, who supposedly spent every evening roaming the borough, looking for people to beat up. Such bifftastic activity has been circumvented by the organisers of the Brockwell Park fair, who have a ‘No Gangs’ notice prominently displayed and a police van on constant vigil. I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing. The parent says ‘good’, the teenager says not.

And it’s as a parent that I take my daughter to the funfair every time it comes to Brockwell Park. That’s partly for her sake, because she loves it so much, but it’s also partly for me, because I want to remember what it’s like to feel this way.

Here she is last week, on a violently orange airplane.

 

I read an article last week about the dishonesty of most funfairs, how it is impossible to win any prizes and the whole thing is essentially a tiny, tacky, travelling confidence trick. It’s very difficult to visit the fair as an adult and not see the sleaziness. But to a child, unaware that the coconut might be glued to the stand, this is paradise. It is wonderful to witness, but also slightly depressing, because it is impossible to share in the innocence, to see the funfair through an eye unstained by prejudice.

My daughter had more fun at Brockwell Park funfair than I think it is possible for an adult to comprehend, when everything is costed in terms of money and time. I hoped that when I went with her, I’d vicariously absorb some of her glee. And I was happy to see her happy, but I also ended up wallowing in nostalgia and misremembered romance. Is that such a bad thing?

This guy knows what I mean, or at least I used to think he did.

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Nostalgia: Bill Hicks, the NME and me

‘Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.’ Don Draper, ‘Mad Men’

You can experience nostalgia in the most unlikely places. Yesterday it was when Lou Reed’s ‘Satellite of Love’ came on the radio, a song my circle of friends listened to incessantly when we were 18 but I’ve hardly heard since. Like ‘Debris’ by the Faces, it’s a song can instantly take me back in time and space, 16 years and to the kitchen of my best friend Scott, when we all had curtain haircuts, smoked like chimneys and were terrifyingly sincere about everything all the time.

A couple of months ago the potent twinge in my heart came when I went to a screening of the new Bill Hicks documentary ‘American’.

When you go and see a film about Bill Hicks you probably expect to come out laughing or enraged or saddened, but I emerged wistful, contemplative and swamped by memories.

I hadn’t thought about Hicks a great deal since 1992, but suddenly it all came flooding back. Staying in to watch Hicks on ‘Clive Anderson Talks Back’ or being interviewed at the Montreal Comedy Festival as C4 surfed the wave of having the hippest comedy content on the block. Reading about Hicks in the NME on the bus to school, enthralled by this astonishing man who called himself a comedian but was sandwiched between features on the Lemonheads, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney and never looked out of place. You couldn’t do that with Jasper Carrot.

C4 comedy and the NME were the two key cultural influences for me at the time, so it’s little surprise that Hicks and his performances should have seemed so important, and also that they should be so easily forgotten, as what we most value in late adolescence is often the first thing that gets abandoned on the roadside during the long march to maturity.

I wrote an article exploring some of this in the context of British love for Hicks in the Independent on Sunday, but can’t help wondering the extent to which I am projecting my own memories of Hicks onto a wider canvas. 

Are these memories entirely personal and therefore largely irrelevent, or are there other people my age who place Hicks in the same C4/NME  bracket? In a sense, I don’t really want to know, because this is my nostalgia, not yours, but at the same, like everybody else, Hicks included (and why else did he love the UK so much?), I desire vindication, some confirmation that my nostalgia isn’t just a ‘twinge’, but something that has real cultural value beyond that. So come on people, vindicate me.