1988 – I Remember

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THE crowd of ‘20.000’ packed the Glebe Park for the crowning ceremony and suddenly I was the focus of attention.

Eddie Armit and I, in our Scout uniforms, marched smartly up the stairs to the dais to salute the young Queen.

We had rehearsed for days but I was shaking like a leaf, Silently, under our breath, we murmured the timing that had been drummed into us. STOP “two-three” SALUTE “two-three” STEP BACK “two-three” – and I fell backward down the stair.

Jim Cuthell and the serenading Carriden Band missed a beat trying to stifle their laughter as I stumbled back having disgraced the Scout movement, and tried to hide my embarrassment in the crowd.

It was a humiliating moment – worse even than my anguish when my Aunt Jane used to shout out so that everyone could hear – “Come on Tam, lift your head, hup, hup, hup,” as I marched in the procession with the 9th West Lothian.

Moments like these may hurt at the time but they are all part of the magic of the Fair – the greatest day in the life of any youngster born and bred in Bo’ness.

It’s the Fair that sets Bo’nessians apart from any other person in the land.

In places all over the world I have been witness to many community occasions. From grand state events to intimate local frolics.

Some have impressed me, some have left me cold. Others have been lost, if not in the mists of time, then an over-indulgence of the local brew.

But none of them have sent the senses reeling or made a lasting impact of these special moments that go to make the Fair.

I defy anyone – even the strongest – not to shed an emotional tear when the band strikes up in the park just before 11.a.m. and hundreds of young, innocent voices begin to sing.

See the summer sun is gleaming, Shining bright o’er land and sea.

It’s a moment to make the hair stand out on the back of your neck.

The buzz that the Fair was coming began days before. And if nothing else we knew it meant that our summer holidays were coming as well.

From birth we had been weaned on the rhyme “The morn’s the Fair, And I’ll be there, And I’ll hae up my curly hair”. We were poets all.

In my day the excitement began when we saw the Dads and their mates beginning to erect the arches outside the homes of the Queen and her entourage.

It was impossible to sleep the night before the Fair because of the excitement. But next morning, we were immaculate in pristine new shirt, trousers and socks.

Many a pair of new gutties got stuck in the tar – “and don’t leave the house without your school tie.”

On the day, our faces were gleaming, our eyes wide with the wonder of it all.

Some youngsters had greatness thrust upon them – especially if yours was the featured school that year. That’s where they chose the Queen and her courtiers like the Champion and the Heralds.

I always wanted to be a Herald – maybe because I fancied wearing tights. But it was not to be. I was at Bo’ness Public School at the wrong time so a great day of tradition remained untarnished.

Preparations for the big day take months and make plans for the D Day landing look like a picnic.

Hundreds of pretty dresses have to be created and made. Nothing must come in the way of the desired effect.

A few years ago staff and parents from the Public unable to get special material from Edinburgh, tried London. When that failed they insisted the supplier got it from Austria – this wasn’t for Princess Di – it was for the Bo’ness Fair.

Bands from home and abroad have to be commissioned. Floats and lorries have to be designed. The adults know that long sleepless nights lie ahead if the usual perfection is to be attained.

But it is all the prelude to a majestic occasion full of pomp and old world pageantry, laughter, songs and fun.

With its Fair an old Scottish town, that has seen good times and bad, gets a unique opportunity to put on the style and invite anyone who cares to join a grand salute to its past and its future.

I have a direct link with its past. My great-aunt Jane Grant, at 96, is the oldest living Queen having been crowned in 1906.

The pedigree of the Fair stretches back to the end of the 18th century when Bo’ness miners wanted to celebrate freedom from bondage granted by Act of Parliament.

There were horse races along the banks of the Forth, brass bands and parades and booths, stalls and side shows at Corbiehall just like today. But mainly it was a license to drink.

Many condemned them at the time, But it was an all too brief relief from the harshness and inhumanity of their normal existence.

Later the Fair became a children’s day for adults for the whole town – and it has moved with the times without losing any of its traditions.

The pageantry and colour of the crowning ceremony will go on forever at the Fair – and so it should. But it was understandable a few years ago that an argument began about whether Academy pupils were too mature and had grown out of the event.

It was not surprising. Many a blossoming First Year flower girl with a Samantha Fox figure was stretching the imagination a bit too far.

The Academy agreed to make speciality contributions. Their first – the St. Trinians Girls was a riot.

Some local bands feel they should automatically take part in the Douglas Park revels. Others feel the best international bands available should be number one choice. I’ll leave the organisers to sort out that little polemic.

Vast improvements have taken place in recent years. Sadly we haven’t yet got much more industry or commerce. But at least we haven’t got rows and rows of high rise concrete and glass.

Instead the planners have held on to the vestiges of the towns industrial and seagoing traditions and cleverly woven them into the landscape.

The Fair and its future I hope will keep pace with these adventurous moves without giving up all that is best in its tradition.

Is the time right to use the fantastic reputation the Bo’ness Fair has achieved by building around it a national or even international arena?

Is the time right to have the Crowning Ceremony as the climax of a week of national events so well organised and marketed that it puts Bo’ness firmly on the map? A lot of people would argue that this is the road to go down.

No matter what happens, two memories of the Fair will stay with me always.

I had a relative who was a member of Kinneil Band who will be nameless. One Fair E’en he had “rehearsed” too long and too well and passed out, he knew not where. Next morning at dawn he heard the sound of the band outside in the street. He grabbed his uniform, ran out and marched proudly playing – alongside members of the rival Carriden Band.

On another occasion I found myself at a posh “do” in Edinburgh and met, to my delight several others from my home town. Before the evening was out we brought proceedings to a standstill by rendering several verses of the Fair Song from the stage.

The idea of inviting school pupils to describe the Fair for inclusion in the Fair programme is a splendid one.

I liked the poem in 1982 from Kirsty Lockwood of Bo’ness Academy. It ended –

There’s nothing like the Bo’ness Fair,
You’ve never lived if you’ve not been there,
From north and south,
From east and west,
Our Bo’ness Fair’s by far the best.

Hear, Hear!

TOM GRANT, Daily Record

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