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.