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1979 – “My First Fair” Margaret McNeish

It is wonderful what one warm day’s sunshine can do. It was so lovely it set me thinking of that magical time that will be with us again. Need I spell it out? “The Fair.” The Bo’ness Fair, to be precise.

I well remember my first Fair. I was just a lass of ten years and had just been domiciled in Carriden a matter of two months when the primary talk at school was the coming Fair.

Ah yes, I was beginning to learn how lucky I was. The year was 1922, the year after the big strike which had cancelled the previous year’s celebrations, and joy of joys, the Queen was being picked from our school, “The Grange.”

I was left in no doubt of the honour conferred on the school and soon names were being bandied about, and suddenly the girls in the top classes were taking a more interesting consciousness of their appearance, with little subtle additions to their persons, in the way of, perhaps, a coloured ribbon in their hair, or maybe the addition of a necklace, or at least something that would bring them to the notice of the boys who had the unenviable task of choosing the main characters in the coming festival.

Well, the Queen choosing day finally arrived and by the interval, we, in the lower classes were soon informed ” Annie Currie’s the Queen.”

The choice was well made, but as she stayed in Grangepans, we were a wee bit disappointed she did not stay in Carriden. The Chief Lady-in-Waiting was Agnes Stanners, and she too stayed in Grangepans district, but we were lucky with another Lady-in-Waiting, Nellie Knowles, next door to us, while across the street, no less than a Maid-of-Honour, Bella Sneddon.

When the initial excitement of the choosing had abated, there was the ever important task of buying the ” Fair clothes.” Though my sister and I were new to this scene, we were left in no doubt of what was expected of us, even though we were not chosen as characters we were informed we must have a white dress, petticoat, white frilly knickers and white shoes and socks.

In view of the fact that we had just survived a major strike, it was understandable that money was a very scarce commodity, but nevertheless every child was dressed for the Fair, should they never get another new article till next Fair, which really happened in many cases.

About this time there was a lady in Linlithgow who opened her house as a sort of haberdashery, stocking everything necessary to clothe children at “give-away prices.” To tell the truth, the place was more like a ” Paddy’s Market,” but bargains were there. The lady who owned the place, a Mrs King, certainly knew what she was doing. The place was continually packed with mothers and their offspring, shuffling and grabbing at the best of the bargains within reach.

My sister and I, with my mother, joined in the fray, and though there was one year and two months difference in our ages, my mother insisted on having us dressed alike, why I’ll never know, for while I was the younger of the two, my sister was always small and neat, while I was big boned and awkward, or so I always felt in comparison.

However, there we were, searching for two white dresses with the accompanying accessories, when Mrs King came to our aid. When my mother told her what we were seeking, she gasped in amazement. ” Ye’ll no’ get that, hen,” she said. “They are a’ samples I get, I cannae repeat them for love or money. But hae a rake, ye might be lucky.” In another minute she brought a wee body to us who could not be more than four feet tall, at least I at ten years of age dwarfed her. “Here’s Kinley tae gi’ ye a hand, bit I’m tellin’ ye, ye’ll be awfu’ lucky to get twa dresses the same.”

After about fifteen minutes we did get two identical dresses and were so pleased we couldn’t believe our luck, we were content to settle for a little difference in our knickers and petticoats, and trudged home weary but happy on the “Fair E’en ” to get bathed ( in a basin in front of the fire ), then to try on our new clothes in a sort of dress rehearsal. But that’s where tragedy struck, we had forgotten about white socks. It was quite late on Fair E’en, but the shops stayed open till about nine o’clock then, so my mother had no alternative but to run into Grangepans to see if any shop could supply her with the necessary article.

Believe it or not, the only shop open was a small dairy, which was also a sort of wee “Jenny a’things” kept ny an old Mrs MacIntosh. When my mother explained what had happened she said she was very sorry but she had not a pair of white socks in the place, but not to worry, she had plenty socks and went on to say, ” I’ve seen a hundred Fairs ” ( we have not reached a hundred yet and that was fifty-seven years ago ) ” and I’ve heard what they were all going to do, and by it comes the morn there’ll be black yins and broon yins and naebody’ll be ony the waur o’ it.”

The outcome was that my mother came home with two pairs of brown socks, and after tears and tantrums and threats of not going to the fair, the Good Lord again smiled on us in the shape of Annie Gourlay ( now Mrs McAlpine and resident in America ) who had a pack, arriving at our door late that night and to our relief she had two pairs of white socks to fit my sister and I. I often wonder what would have happened had we not got our white socks. That then was our first Fair.

I did not think I would sleep that night, or if I did, something would happen before morning that would prevent us from going to the Fair, but sleep I did and wakened in the morning to brilliant sunshine, and the Carriden Band dispensing music at Carriden School before going on to the Queen’s house. I can’t remember much about the actual crowning ceremony, maybe the incidents were too much for a new recruit to the Fair scene, especially at the tender age of ten, when we were much more naive than the modern ten year olds.

I do remember getting my bun and banana, and being just about to enjoy them when the Carriden Band once again threw me into such a state of excitement and confusion that mundane things like breakfast, buns and bananas just had to go by the board.

After that things were a bit hazy. I remember marching, which I did not enjoy, and standing for hours it seemed, before we marched again to “some fair field to hold the Royal Revels,” I think it was Kinnigars that year.

One thing I do remember distinctly, my exclusive fairs dress was repeated about a dozen times, big yins and wee yins, but fortunately no “black socks nor broon yins,” and tired and weary I arrived home between four and five o’clock for my tea and a rest before time for the ” shows ” where we spent what little money we had in record time then went looking for relations in a happier position financially than ourselves.


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