Yesterday afternoon, after a long fish and chip lunch (working class dinner) with friends, we both needed a walk so we wandered up to the Botanical Gardens with no particular quarry in mind except the vague hope that there might be some traces of a physic garden in amongst the plantings. No such luck, though – the garden has its seasonal moments, but apart from a couple of very nice borders the trees are the main survivors of the relentless pressures of austerity. The garden is just far enough from the tourist hotspots to allow the City Council to neglect it without much fear of being called out. Any protesters can be labelled as ‘minority activists’ citing the pressing and greater needs of social care and claiming that these sorts of things are expensive fripperies – like libraries and galleries …… and – the list goes on, the cuts get deeper and the fabric of society begins to disintegrate. The Garden is only a short walk from Royal Crescent which is constantly crowded with visitors who photograph the lovely architecture without giving a thought to where the money came from. William Beckford whose folly overlooks Bath from a commanding position on Lansdown was one such landowner. His Wikipedia entry gushes on about his achievements as an art collector, novelist and politician but remains silent on the slave plantations that provided his inherited wealth.
So it was a relief to find Carters Steam Fair setting up next door. Carters is unlike any other funfair you might have been to – for a start you’re safer at the fair than you would be crossing the A4 to get to it. When I was a child, travelling fairs were thought of as being a bit rough and risky. On the hot evenings fights would break out like summer showers and I can recall the boxing booths where the local lads would get up and have a go. There were still a few freak shows and I even remember the name of one burlesque act, called “The Naughty Nineties Girls”. These all added to the erotic undertones of the funfair. During the afternoons it was mainly attended by families and children, but as a teenager when I was first allowed to go at night, it took on an altogether darker and more exotic life. As you approached, you could hear the raucous music and see the lights. What was so wonderful about it? Well, it was edgy, liminal – you had to cross the penumbra of scattered light to enter – it was everything that life at home wasn’t – joyful, noisy, disorderly, open-ended. They played rock and roll music and there were girls. The young men running the rides were like young predators stalking their supper. It was Weimar Berlin, bathed in diesel fumes and the smell of the summer night. There were huge noisy generators run by men who’d seen it all, there was mud and straw and the greatest thing of all was that it would disappear after a week leaving just tyre tracks and yellowed grass. A truly proletarian event.
Carters has all the old rides, the paper roll steam organs and the rock and roll music. There are generators and candyfloss and hotdogs but it’s resolutely respectable and run by a family who spend their winters restoring the unloved relics of the dangerous days. They even run courses on funfair lettering and painting.
Re-live Grandma’s Yesterday
That’s the slogan on one of the lorries and we’ll be there on Saturday afternoon when it opens, listening (I hope) to the Everly Brothers and photographing the spectacular machinery. All very low-tech, 1950’s and hauntingly beautiful.