Caravans and low loaders would start arriving on the Monday and they would assemble the rides and stalls through the week. Talk at school would be of nothing else. The arrival of the funfair was one of the entertainment highlights of the year in Brynamman.
The family that ran it owned a parcel of land at the bottom of Station Road near the Cenotaph and came back once or twice a year to set up their attractions. These included a variety of rides – chair-o-planes, waltzers and bumper cars, and a selection of stalls such as air rifle ranges, hook-a-duck and a coconut shy.
Visits to aunties and grandparents in the week before the funfair would see them pressing a hot shilling piece into my hand accompanied by a slobbery kiss and the exhortation to go and enjoy myself.
On the Friday or Saturday evening of the fair we would get dressed in our best clothes, and with hair carefully combed, my father would walk me down to the ground. I only ever went with my father as my mother was not a fan of the noisy, smelly sensations offered by the travellers.
Just going out in the twilight was an event in itself. We could hear the music from the top of the hill as we set out and the atmosphere thickened as we got closer. Down through Heol-y-Gelynen, past the Aelwyd and the Public Hall and onto Station Road; joining others as they walked past Laria’s petrol station, the Chemist and Getta’s sweet shop to cross the road before the bend by the Co-op.
The fair was laid out in a large open space that had a dusty ‘compo’ and chipping floor and was surrounded by looming trees. The area had been transformed with brightly painted wooden signs and hundreds of multicoloured light bulbs and the contrast with the normally austere surroundings made it all the more magical. It became an oasis of light and colour in a usually dark and drab corner of the village.
The clatter of the rides was thrilling and tinny pop music blared out from each, creating overlapping cacophony. We tried everything, making the most of this brief, colourful opportunity for excitement. There were hot dogs, candy floss, toffee apples and popcorn to choose from and the exotic smells from these added to the heady atmosphere.
We started by visiting my father’s favourite, the amusement arcade with its flashing fruit machines and penny falls. All around me was wonder. I could see the other stalls and rides from inside the arcade and despite the immediate attractions there was always something else to grab my attention.
I got nervous before the first ride. I found the bumper cars to be intimidating with their greasy handlers who swaggeringly took your money and pushed you into collisions like vicarious thrill seekers. My father used the old fashioned name – dodgems and skilfully avoided the other cars to begin with until he lined up a young couple and broadsided them at ramming speed with a satisfying bump. As one of the world’s slowest drivers it was the fastest I ever knew him drive anything.
Nursing mild whiplash we staggered over to an area by the trees so I could have a wild pee before deciding which ride to do next.
I always enjoyed the two-handed swing. I remember the pride I felt the year I was big enough to sit opposite my dad on the heavy wooden seats and pull on a greasy rope so thick I could only just get my hands around it. We sent the brightly painted pram shaped carriage high into the clear night, gulping cold lungfulls of food and diesel laden air.
I was bought a watery hotdog with onions, ketchup and mustard, and a pink candyfloss that was bigger than my head. You didn’t eat a candyfloss, you were surrounded by it. I took a huge bite of virtually nothing and the hot spun sugar dissolved on my tongue, wrapped itself around me and melted to encrust my cheeks in sticky sweetness.
There was a strange booth that had raffle ticket numbers rolled up into stripey paper straws. You paid for the privilege of using a little metal rod on a string to poke the number out of the straw and, with luck, claim a matching prize. This unchallenging task required no skill and little dexterity but the stall did a roaring trade, they were simpler times indeed.
It wasn’t difficult either, but I was pretty good at the Hook-a-Duck stall. You were given a bamboo pole with a coathanger hook taped to the end and were required to hook a loop around a rubber duck’s neck as it rotated on a motorised turntable. Each duck had a hand painted number underneath that corresponded to a suitably tacky prize.
As a junior member of the home guard during the war (he always identified with Private Pike in Dad’s Army) my father was keen to show off his familiarity with a firearm. He approached the shooting range with confidence and swiftly knocked down one battered metal plate after the other to claim a prize. I was mightily impressed and vowed to gain the same proficiency as soon as I was tall enough.
I was already tall enough to roll a ping pong ball up a slope into a numbered hole or to throw the same into a narrow necked goldfish bowl to win a prize. Both tasks looked easier than they were to a little shill and I retreated cowed and empty handed having discovered the Never give a sucker an even break rule of fairgrounds.
Being too young for the waltzers we completed our visit on the rather milder but still thrilling roundabout. I always chose a black horse if one was available and a white one if not — I wasn’t too happy if I ended up on a giraffe or an elephant. I loved the sensation of spinning by my dad standing at the side dutifully waving at me every time I passed. I got off on Bambi legs, tired out even before the walk back up the hill.
Whenever I was taken anywhere by only one parent I was encouraged to buy something for the parent who’d stayed at home. Visiting the fair saw us returning laden with jaw breaking toffee apples, a coconut to destroy with a hammer, and a doomed goldfish in a plastic bag.
My mother must have been beside herself with gratitude.