FOR weeks now our news from home had been full of Bo’ness Fair. We were on first name terms with all the principal characters – and we knew which arch my brothers were building.

We’d even caught the whisper of the town’s worst-kept secret. . . . the style of the Queen’s dress.

So, for our only Fair Day in the Southern Hemisphere, neither the 14,000 miles distance nor chilly blast of a Johannesburg winter morning could dilute the excitement of the dawning of another ” Fair morn.”

This particular Fair morning started in traditional style – with a substantial breakfast. Even South Africa’s boerewors had a taste of Frank’s pork links that day.

And I swear, if I stood at the open kitchen door I could catch the sound of a brass band warming up!

I was homesick in a way that surpassed all the twinges of nostalgia that of ” back home ” always manifested. I had taken in my stride a diet lacking in mince pies, slice sausage and ” plain ” bread. I had even taken it like a man that whisky was so cheap it was no longer a savoured luxury – and that wine cost less than a bottle of brown sauce.

But Bo’ness Fair Day without a chance of meeting old school pals and eyeing up old flames? How could I get through the day.

With a little help from my friends, it seemed. Most of the lads I worked beside knew that this Friday was a special day for my home town ( we read each other’s mail!!). The decision had been made to dedicate the day’s bar lunch to Fair Day.

We had a bar lunch and an unofficial half day on the last Friday of every month. That it coincided with pay day was not accidental!

I also had a dinner and cabaret in a French restaurant lined up for the evening – thanks to my wife ” perks ” as an entertainment critic.

The rest is a sorry but familiar tale of Fair Day for many much closer to home – a slide into inebriation and mawkishness.

I had kept an eye on the weather all morning. ” Let the sun shine for 11 a.m..” I said to Gordon, my 65 year-old ” apprentice. ”

And it did! To celebrate I treated the boys in the workshop to a quick chorus of the Fair song. Not to be outdone, Gordon followed up with a rousing ” God Save the King! ” – and gave everybody a fair idea of his age.

Mid-day – and we set off for lunch. This being darkest Africa, there was a good smattering of Scottish accents in the bar. Some had even heard of Bo’ness Fair Day.

Before I left, everybody knew it was Bo’ness Fair Day!

We were all tucked into steak pie and fast-flowing beer when someone noticed that it had started snowing – and completely spoiled the Fair day illusion the steak pie had gone a long way to create.

Imagine three inches of snow in the Douglas Park? It was pretty unbelievable in South Africa – the first time it had snowed in 17 years and it had to choose Bo’ness Fair Day to do it on.

It was still snowing as we reached the restaurant that evening. ” Fison’s! ” I thought when I saw it was a converted church building. But, believe me, the waitresses were wearing a lot less than their Bo’ness Counterparts!

The French menu and the exotic dancers sure made a change from the sausage rolls before a tour round the ” shows ” back home.

We were a cosmopolitan bunch that night. A French ambassador and his wife, a German businessman and partner and a black South African couple made up our table. I left the menu to my wife, Margaret. She had studied French and I had double vision by this time!

The French ambassador’s wife introduced me to the delights of Perrier water – they’re very tactful when dealing with drunks, these French women.

The cabaret started just before dinner. It was ve..rry French and Margaret had to keep on reminding me that my meal was getting cold – even if I wasn’t.

By the time we had our after dinner dram we were all the best of friends. Somewhere still in South Africa there are six people who can sing the first verse of ” See the Summer Sun is Gleaming. . . ”

And out in the snow we were still singing about the ” gleaming summer sun ” as we waited for our taxi.

A few more choruses and the taxi driver got the message that we were Scottish.

It wasn’t until we realised that he had been singing along for the past few minutes that we didn’t only have a compatriot in him – but a fellow Bo’nessian!

” A Grant from Grangepans,” he told us. ” Do you know what day it is? ” he added. ” Fancy it snowing on Fair Day! ”

COLIN BUTTERWICK

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