SINCE my school days I have always been involved with the Fair – from being a pupil and carrying the St. Mary’s School banner, to build arches for my three sons and niece, to my present involvement of building floats of one kind or another.
My float building days began with helping Davy king as far back as 1966. Some of the names who come to mind are Tam Grant, Jacky Bell, Davy Black, Davy Kilpatrick, John Quarrie, John Sneddon and Eric Cook, who all helped Davy build the floats for Wm. McLucas of Bo’ness. Eric Cook came from Grangemouth and he was the Rolf Harris of the team. He could transform something quite , quite simple into the sublime. One of Davy’s favourite sayings was ‘ It’s nae bother! – you just do this or that ‘ and the hands were giving you a demonstration at the same time. I reckon Davy and myself could beg, borrow or get the use of just about anything to build the float. One of our suppliers was Andrew Raeburn from Messers. Thomson and Balfour and as usual Andrew’s words every year were ‘ Oh Jesus, it’s no that time again’ – many a tale can be told about how we acquired one thing or another, but that’s another story.
Over the years, like everything else, times have changed, and so have faces, but two of the team have been with us since their school days, when Davy encouraged them to give a hand with the painting, they are namely Sandy Queenan and Jack Rigg.
Sadly Davy passed away in January 1990, but to the end Davy was there on the Big Day to help and was always suitably attired. To the memory of Davy we presented a trophy to the Fair Committee in 1990, which is now used for the tableau section and indeed it was a great pleasure for Nessie ( Davy’s widow ) and for ourselves to be awarded the same trophy as 1st prize for our float – The Steam Ship Waverley – that very same year – believe me, many a toast was drunk to Davy’s memory from the trophy that day.
Over the years I reckon the hardest part of building a float was trying to decide to build something which hadn’t been done before. When the theme was decided, a rough sketch would be handed to Guthrie Pollock, who in turn would draw it out in detail and colour it, and then we were ready to start in late January, but it was usually March before the hammers and the saws came out and many’s a long night spent in preparation for the Fair Day trying to get everything completed in time – in fact, on more than one occasion the float went to the Chance Park for the judging still with wet paint.
The judging can be, and still is a nerve wracking experience, watching the judges trying to make their final decisions and many are the disappointments we’ve had when we really thought ours was the better float ( I will admit we are biased! ) Family and friends gather at the judging too, anxious to see if our float would win. Two faces very sadly missed over the last two years, are Tam McFarlane and Bob Cossar, who always gave their ‘ tuppence worth ‘ on our work. Tam especially was always his usual at telling us we should have done this, that or the other – but I think the real reason was they always got a wee dram to toast the Fair Day.
After the judging is over, we head down to the Viewforth corner for the start of the Big Parade. At 12 noon it’s off down the Church Wynd and ‘ roond the toon ‘ and believe me, when you hear the applause and comments it most certainly lets you know whether time and effort has been worthwhile – believe me, when you see the crowds along the route, shouting, laughing and applauding, you know that everything has been worth it. It certainly is a sight to see and enjoy!
Personally speaking, I would say that 1983 was Fair of Fairs for me – my son Gary was chosen to be Champion that year to Queen Gail Muirhead from St. Mary’s School. Our house frontage was a medieval jousting scene, which received 1st prize and the float that same year was a windmill and it too received 1st prize.
A lot of thanks goes to everyone who helped make that a year to remember.
After the Fair, we always go to Linlithgow Gala Day on the Saturday and we always enjoy ourselves there simply because the pressure of the Fair Day has gone and a lot of the folk are in Bo’ness.
Our next big event is the Edinburgh Festival Parade which we have been invited to over the past few years. We have had many a battle with Balbardie School from Bathgate at Edinburgh for 1st prize. We had 1st equal a few times but in 1990 we most certainly hit the jackpot and scooped the 1st prize which was a really very happy time. To receive this award, two members of the building team are invited to the Carlton Hotel in Edinburgh, where they are wined and dined along with other prize winners of the various sections.
After this we begin the sorry task of dismantling the float for another year and at the same time we’re always thinking about the next year – it never stops!
At the time of writing this we have decided on this year’s effort so we’ve ready for the off again.
I am sorry to say that float builders seem to be limited in the last several years and we could do with some new faces and more floats for the Big Day – the more the merrier and the stiffer the competition.
On saying that, it reminds me of a few years back when I was asked by a joiner what the theme was for the float – I responded to his question and asked if he would be willing to give a hand. His first question was how much we were paid. I answered it was all voluntary. I was then informed ‘ You’re aff yer heid’ and was a joiner less. To be honest, he was maybe right – it is a lot of hard work on cold, frosty, wet nights – but on the Fair E’en when you see the end result, I think everyone who works on the building of the float agrees with me that IT IS very wothwhile on the actual day, and it’s a very small price to pay in the making of a successful Fair Day.
I can remember missing only one Fair Day, when I first started to work after leaving school, and believe you me it was one very lone, sad, unhappy day!
On Fair Day it’s really a wonderful sight to see the children enjoying themselves, taking part in one way or another – but there really are a lot of BIG KIDS – myself the biggest by far, I must confess, all out to enjoy OUR DAY, as in my own personal opinion, the Fair Day is THE day of the year.
So, fellow Bo’nessians and new comers to the town, please give all the support and help whichever way possible to the hard working and often unfairly criticised Fair Committee ( their work is invaluable ), your school, neighbours and friends, as every little helps.
Give me a shout on the day and I will give you a wave and a toot.
Have a Happy Fair!
WILLIAM McALLISTER For Alex. Anderson, Float Builders