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1986 – “Fair Daft” David Grindlay

MOST of you will have heard that old chestnut about the two guys crawling across the Sahara Desert in the blistering heat.

One turns to the other and says, ” Did you know it’s the Bo’ness Fair today?” The other replies, “No? But they’re getting rare weather for it.”

A not too dissimilar experience happened to me back in the 1960’s. I was walking down the main street in Durban, South Africa, when believe it or not I was halted in my tracks by an old school chum from the Public School.

Did he inquire about my health, family, the state of the Scottish economy, or what the heck I was doing thousands of miles from home? No! He wanted to know if I’d been to the Fair that year and what it was like.

New Year, Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, all pale into insignificance when it comes to the Fair Day.

It’s a day of excitement, wonder and joy for the young and a day of reliving past excitement, wonder and joy for the old – that’s anyone in the ” left-school ” category.

As a pre-war baby – Second World and not Boer – I grew up with tales of this mystical Fair Day which not even God in his heaven would dare let a raindrop fall on.

It wasn’t till after the cessation of hostilities that I experienced it for myself.

It was magic! Whenever did you get hauled along to Wevlings to get new trousers, plus a shirt and tie. And, if your luck was out, a new pair of shoes worn for the first time that day for that hike from the Public to the Academy Park. Lorries were in short supply in those days.

But our teacher ( if my memory serves me right it was Mrs Sheehan ) was no fool. She’d told us about the bag of scones, cakes, and that refreshing bottle of milk that awaited us if we kept right on to the end of the road……and we did.

A later Fair saw me fair chuffed – if you’ll excuse the pun – to be chosen to carry the 3rd West Lothian Scout troop colour round the route. What an idiot! We were hardly at the bottom of the Wynd when I discovered why I hadn’t exactly been knocked over in the rush of volunteers. My right arm wasn’t the same for months.

However I did manage to use it a few weeks later to hand over my tanner at the Hippodrome cash desk to see that all important Fair aftermath – the big day, recorded for posterity, on film.

The Sylvester Stallone of that era was Johnny Weismuller, but not even Tarzan could compete with the fact that I might catch a glimpse of yours truly in jerky black and white celluloid.

And there I was! In floppy, Mountie-style hat, hanging onto that flag like grim death. The Hippodrome stalls rang with the chorus of ” That’s me, that’s me ! from the dozens of us who had spotted ourselves on the big screen.

And how about another Fair day aftermath which appears to have disappeared into the mists of time – the wee Fairs at Avon Place, Deanfield, the Back Hill and Grangepans, to name but a few.

Every conceivable attempt was made to make them as authentically near to the real thing as possible, even to trying to ” rustle ” John McMinn’s horse into service for the Champion. Remember John went round emptying the swill bins for his pigs.

I always wanted to be the Champion. With specs I could barely see through and a limp that made Long John Silver look like Seb Coe, you’d have thought I was the ideal candidate for a stint in the stirrups. No such luck! A page boy, a herald, a sceptre bearer – you name it, I’ve been it – but never a chance to throw out that challenge. Come to think of it maybe I was lucky. With my physique some three year-old girl would probably have taken me on – and beat the tar out of me.

Them were the days. The shows stretched along the broadwalk from Waggon Road to Avon Place. Hundreds of kids clutching that two-bob bit that Auntie or Uncle had given Them, and dying for the chair-o-planes or the jungle ride to stop so that they could scramble aboard.

And how about Dad’s pal who emerged with him from the Kinneil Bar, The Masonic, the Douglas, the Station Hotel, or any one of the town’s numerous hostelries, and suddenly became an instant “Uncle” Tom, Dick or Harry.

You didn’t care if he was Flash Gordon – that introduction usually meant ” Uncle “, who often had one over the nine or ten, dipping into his pocket and forking out another couple of bob, “For your Fair”,

And after the Shows came the compulsory walk round the Arches – a convenient excuse by many a long-suffering mum to give their spouse a chance to stay at home and sober up, while getting the weans out of the way.

Viewing the Arches wasn’t my favourite Fair Day sport. Coming from Corbiehall I especially disliked it if the Queen came from Grange School. For a walk round the Arches meant just that.

Which brings me to the Fair Song. I may not know all the verses of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ or ‘Flower of Scotland – have you noticed how many people open their mouths but don’t utter a sound when it gets to verse two of either – but I can fairly belt out ” See the Summer sun is gleaming ” from start to finish. It’s indelibly stamped on my memory. My singing repertoire consists of ‘ The Forty Shades of Green’ and ‘The Bo’ness Fair Song’. You can gather from that wide choice that, since I exiled myself to faraway Stirling 30 years ago, not many people I’ve come into contact with have heard the Fair Song.

Is it my imagination, or the fact that I’m getting on in years, but didn’t you think Fair Days were a bit warmer in these days than of late? Rain HAS even been known to fall upon the big day in recent years – but not, luckily enough, on the crowning.

Maybe we’re all daft and should be off on our hols when the Fair takes place to be guaranteed the sun. But that would be unthinkable to anyone born and bred in Bo’ness. Even those who, like myself, no longer live in the town go out of their way to make sure that their two weeks doon or over the water don’t clash with the Fair.

Okay! I admit I’m still Fair-daft, and will make the pilgrimage to the Public Park again this year. Remember, I’m the guy with the specs and a limp who always wanted to be the Champion.

My ambition may never have been fulfilled, but I can assure you I’ll be feeling “champion” that day.


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