In Somerset, it is the season of fairs: Bridgwater, the greatest of them all, will take place next week.
Our local fair was at Long Sutton. It was a funfair small enough to fit onto the village green, but it was big enough to cause excitement to a six year old boy. There was not much to it: dodgems, a roundabout, swingboats; stalls selling toffee apples and candy floss; and maybe a few other things. Standing outside the Devonshire Arms on the green in Long Sutton now and you realize how small it must have been.
Going to Bridgwater Fair was the highlight of an uneventful year. Bridgwater was the big day out. Dating from medieval times, it takes place at St Matthew’s Field.
Was there always mud? I certainly remember going in Wellington boots. The street approaching the field was lined with ‘cheapjacks’ intent on parting people from their money. The offers were too good to be true, but everyone knew they were, that was part of the entertainment, watching to see who might be taken in.
As the field was approached there was a gateway through which the countless thousands of feet passed. The ground would have been well churned up by the Saturday evening, the closing night of the fair.
Stalls and other stuff were OK for grown ups, it was the funfair that was the magnet for a small boy clutching a half-crown. Looking back now I’m sure it was gaudy and garish and completely unsophisticated, but to a child who lived in village of 300 people and who went to a two classroom school that had just forty pupils, this was the most amazing place. This made Long Sutton look like a sideshow.
The rides were often frightening, more for watching than trying. There were constant wonders to discover as we pushed through the throngs. I remember tents that were forbidden to small boys, but perhaps my imagination invented them. In my memory, there were at least a boxing ring and another involving the charms of some lady. Did they exist or are they the later interpolations of a mind fed on stories of travelling shows and circuses? Was there a Wall of Death or is it something misremembered?
If a small boy went to Bridgwater next week, would there be the same magic now? Where would a child cluthching the equivalent of a half-crown find such a world of excitement and delight?