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2004 – “Unsung Heroes & Heroines” Maureen Simpson

No one in a hundred years will remember me – or this article. This programme may end up being recycled, dare I say, into toilet paper. So no one will remember I risked offending and/or boring people as I beat my drum for the low profile dedicated enthusiast of Bo’ness Fair.

Strangers never really understand what the Fair’s about, even when they’re shown armfuls of photographs. It’s impossible to tell from photos the amount of work involved and the amount of people that are willingly recruited into service, all in the name of keeping the magic and tradition of the Fair alive, not just for now, but for future generations. Every year this grandiose affair embraces the lives of eighty or so children who are given the experience of a lifetime. I don’t think the youngest fairy is any less excited, less overwhelmed or less fussed over than the Queen on the Fair Day – well maybe just a tad.

To me, Bo’ness Fair is kind of like a miniature Hollywood production, with as many credits at the end of the day as, yeah, I’m not scared to say it, Lord of the Rings.

Working together, I suppose the Fair Committee and school Staff members are the directors who launch the production. The Retinue and presentees ate the stars that grace the stages and streets with their performances and out there behind the scenes are parents, family, friends, neighbours and colleagues without whose help the “show” would not hit town.

Every year, just when you think last year’s theme cannot be beaten, it surely is. Another spectacle of sensational originality combines with colours, costumes, music and dance to enthral the thousands of folk who come along to enjoy the thrill of the Fair. From conception to execution everyone knows and remembers the theme, but mystery surrounds the creator. It never seems to big a deal who inspired the idea, but someone surely deserves credit.

Once that wee Fair Queen runs home with the news “I’m the Queen”, (mind you probably text home now) I dare say many a household can kiss normality goodbye for the duration of the Fair Season.

Here I feel my first salute must go to the tea ladies who from start to finish, that’s from February ‘til June, don their apron’s, roll up their sleeves and are there all hours on hand in the kitchen brewing brews and churning out mountains of sannies for the endless, essential decision making meetings that are conducted in lounges and garages the length and breadth of Bo’ness.

Once decisions are made arch builders step forward to volunteer their talents and labour armed with tools of their trade and, in the same time capsule as the tea ladies, constructions worthy of any building firm’s stamp of excellence take shape and finally transform whole areas into representations of faraway exotic places. Who are these builders? They emerge from the woodwork, it seems, complete the mission almost impossible, and, after a couple of wee drams, quietly melt into the backgrounds they have created. Year after year all this hidden talent augments the legend of the Fair.

A drum roll for the men folk and I’m sure the many women who dabble their paint brushes in the works.

Meanwhile, behind closed doors another band of stalwarts disappear to whiz and whir the spring months away with scissors and sewing machines. Rooms or maybe whole houses turn into sweat shops (I mean that in the nicest possible way) where dressmakers, as if by magic turn bolts of satin, lace, net and taffeta into dresses to die for. Not only dresses that the girls can’t wait to display on their walk of frame to the Glebe Park and after, but the boys too who I’m sure are equally proud to don their dashing costumes as they handle their duties on this most auspicious occasion. It’s no magic wand that turns our children into costumed characters who could tread the boards in any silver screen production. It’s all pure genius and hard work.

Well done to all the designer costumes departments.

As the Retinue are put through their paces and never fail to perform their duties with solemnity, grace and perfection, winning our awestruck admiration, so too, do the presentees by adding, in complete contrast, their razzamatazz performances that so delight the crowds. Those polished dance routines are produced by choreographers (well you are really) who work tirelessly to that end. In the end it’s the boogie woogiers, the guys and dolls, the swingers, all those dancers who take the bow on stage to uproarious applause. It’s then the choreographer knows every minute of every rehearsal has been worth it. The applause says so. They can stand back now and take it easy.

Let me take my hat off to the ladies who year after year make my feet tap and my heart burst with pride at Bo’ness challenge to the Hollywood musical.

June sees the place of life accelerate as back greens fill with billowing curtains and fringy lampshades. Every stoor harbourer in sight is clean, carpets are shampooed and windows have that extra special sparkle – not a single dust mite survives that Fair clean up. While hoovers are at work inside, the lawnmowers are equally active outside. In gardens weeds are out and bonnie plants are in. Flags begin to fly. It seems like a declaration if being made, Bo’ness Fair is imminent and nearly everyone wants to add their personal touch to the festival. By Fair Day, there is no evidence that any major changes took place during June. Maybe these would have happened anyway, because it’s summer, but I suspect it’s Fair Fever.

A torch should be lit for these people who keep the spirit of the Fair ongoing.

Although mentioned in the despatches (yeah you’re in the programme!) – I’m on about the bands now. I wonder if each individual band member realises their hard work is essential to the success of the day. You’re here, there, everywhere, with wake-up calls. You lead the schools throughout the day. Do you realise how many a weary footsore walker’s step lightens as you blow your horns, bang those drums and blow those pipes.

A toast to one and all for your never-ending rendering of tunes, to the greater glory of the Fair.

As cameras click in front of the Queen’s School on Fair morning, recording for posterity that moment in time when the Queen and her retinue are poised ready to leave for the crowning ceremony before the backdrop of some far flung clime, forgotten are the dedicated school supporters who leant their hearts, minds, souls, spirits, as well as all that time, to changing that house of learning into that setting fit for a Queen. Ever open were the doors of the school for them to quietly but surely release their talents thus up holding a relatively new tradition that crept into the Fair ritual, that of decorating the school. Who are these people? I’d like to say here, 99% true dedication or maybe it kept you out of the wife’s hair – oops!

Let the flag be flown from the highest flagpole in salutation to your seeming powers of magic.

I read in the Journal dated July 2003 and witnessed for myself that only three floats graced the Fair procession last year. That band of die-hards ignored the expense, gave up their time, conquered health and safety directives and somehow managed to wangle time off to spend their day negotiating the bends and twists of, The Wynd, labouring up Harbour Road with floats that could easily take their place in any Hollywood or Disney boulevard parade with pride. I’m betting, whoever you are, and you’re back on track wielding mechanical contraption moulding models, whatever it takes, in an energetic drive to once again transfix the crowds with your cleverly camouflaged juggernauts of the road.

Well horns toot for that bunch of indomitable died in the wool enthusiasts.

How do I pay tribute to the next group? They have been here since the 19th century, are still here in the 21st and just like the main characters, they have their part to play. They too are put through their paces learning the Fair songs, being versed on the timing of events, given hints on survival equipment, raincoats for that inclement weather – and sensible shoes for that two-mile parade. Yet their excitement is no less infectious, intense or invisible in class and playground as the Fair approaches. Although their names are not floodlit or emblazoned in plaques come Fair Day our precious young scholars disclose their special signal of approval of the day. It’s generated in the gear (is that the cool word for clothes – these days?) They flaunt. For months, top of the gossip list has been “Fair Claes”. (Boys too I’ll bet but that’s probably after last nights football results.) Then the day dawns and our normally uniformed youngsters cast off those work clothes and look splendiferous in their individuality. A veritable feast of fashion flits before our eyes. Catwalk babes need to look to their laurels. Not only do they look good, they sound good too as they wend their way cheerily belting out the name of the school to which they owe their allegiance.

I think a Bo’ness roar is in order here for each and every one of them.

Although smaller in number, members of the various youth organisations join the day’s proceedings too. Their presence is heart warming. Their smart appearance and their orderly marching demonstrate their loyalty. Let’s rest for a moment, stand tall and give them a cheer.

The very small groups of people in the procession who seemed independents, as it were, catch my attention. They have a theme, are dressed accordingly and certainly jolly the crowd along with their brand of fun and gaiety. Who are you? More please, and how do I join your happy band.

I bow to your bravado.

“Eat up noo? Dae ye want another drink? Dinnae be feart tae help yersel!’ There’s plenty mair” that’s the plea of hundreds of Bo’ness women on Fair Day, the hostess with the mostest. They’ve all shopped ‘til they dropped, stock piling enough food to feed the world. Its open house always has been. It’s part of the Fair. No one goes hungry or thirsty on this day, and probably not for the whole week after.

Lets all burp to that.

Parents fret not – you’re here, honourably mentioned, because most importantly of all without you, no children, no Fair. I know I can say that, without exception, you’re the greatest. From tots to teens, main characters to spectators, year after year, you work, you worry, you agonise, maybe even break the bank, but who cares, come the Fair Day it’s worth it! There they are, your pride and joy, turned out resplendently by you, carrying on the heritage that coloured our childhood.

Feeling sick? Sorry if I sounded patronising, boring in my accolades, twee in my sentiments. However, I do not apologise. It is how I feel.

Bo’ness Fair comes by as regular as Santa and out there a body of souls dedicate a big part of their existence to its success. They never fail the event and thousands have trodden the path before them.

Something tells me not one of them will ever forget their part, however small, medium or large in Bo’ness Fair Day.

Three cheers everybody. Hip Hip…


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