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2005 – “Fair Enough” Peter Aitken

As I was born in 1936 I had a long wait to be introduced to my first Fair Day, thanks to the intervention of Mr Hitler. It was not until 1946 that I had first hand experience of our once a year day. Of course long before this I had been taught the words and music of both Fair Songs at my mother’s knee, and they were there for life. My elder sister Jean had been a fairy two years in succession, firstly in 1934 when Nellie Young was the first and only Queen to hail from the Snab, then the following year when the girl who had been chosen to be a fairy took ill, and Jean took her place. Not the same dress of course, my grandparents made sure of that. I do wonder of course, was there ever any other girl in Bo’ness who can make claim to twice being a fairy at the Fair in successive years?

During the war years the miners at Kinneil Colliery organised an annual Gala Day held at the park which at that time surrounded the Kinneil Welfare Bowling Green and stretched from Castleloan to the Snab Brae, now the location of Wotherspoon Drive/Angus Road etc. My recollection of this is a trifle sketchy but there were races, tug of war, football, best of all for us there were sticky buns and fizzy lemonade.

However one thing that does stick in my memory and that was going up the Snab Brae to the festivities, dressed in my best bib and tucker, along with two of my older sisters Grace and Nan. At the top of the Brae we were stopped by Tom Mulholland and each presented with a rosebud from his Aunt Mary’s garden, which was pinned to the girl’s dresses and was inserted into the buttonhole of my jacket. This became a yearly ritual that we looked forward too, and of course the weather was always glorious. To this day if I possibly can, I try to wear a rosebud from my garden in my lapel, this year on Fair Day it will be yellow rose for Kinneil School.

I was at Kinneil School when the Fair resumed in 1946 with Sadie Potter from the Grange School as the Queen. We were allowed to vote for a flower girl from our class, however no boys were ever chosen at that time, but I remember when our next door neighbour Dan Bell was chosen as a presentee. Dan now lives in Logan Lake, north of Kamploops in British Columbia in Canada. I can remember walking the procession with the school that first year and this finished at the Academy playing fields where we got our bags with a sticky cookie, an apple and I think some crisps. The following years before going on to the Academy I marched with the 9th West Lothian Scout troop in the procession.

As for me I guessed that I’d had my lot as far as being a character at the Fair when I moved from Kinneil School to the Academy in 1949. However my first year there was the Academy’s turn to have the queen and Margaret Carson was duly voted Queen Elect.

So the search was on to find the two smallest boys in the school to be page boys and lo and behold I was placed on the short leet only to have my hopes dashed when John Ballantine from the Muirhouses and my class mate Willie Stirling from Lothian Street were chosen. My memories that day were of being part of the First Year Boys Gymnastic Team, who presented a display to entertain the crowds at the Academy playing fields where the revels were held.

As the years progressed I was part of the Queen’s Guard of Honour for Margaret Henderson from Grange School in 1951 and remember getting completely soaked.

We were a sorry sight with the specially prepared beautifully steamed and ironed brims of our Baden-Powell hats giving way under the deluge; we really were “Drookit Craws” that day.

The year 1953 proved to be a memorable one, as the 9th West Lothian Scout Troop embarked on their first ever foreign camping trip to Sweden. This came about following a Scout Jamboree at Blair Atholl the previous year, when Walter Carlyle became friends with a Swede from the town of Boras near Gothenburg and our leaders negotiated our trip there. At this point you may be wondering what this has to do with the Fair, if so read on. We left Bo’ness the week prior to the Fair but decided that on “The Day” we would have our own “Wee Fair”. Our campsite at that time was on an island in a lake near the town so we had everything arranged. The idea was that we would have our ceremony at 10am to coincide with the Bo’ness crowning to make up for the one hour time difference. The “Queen” was Jim McFarlane, who was eventually to become the Managing Director of a company with over 3,000 employees working for the nuclear power industry. The Champion was Eddie Armitt, a position he had one year later when Mary Gibson was an Academy queen, the herald was Albert Sheehan who is now one of the Sheriff’s at Falkirk Sheriff Court, other senior scouts taking part included Walter Carlyle, former General Manager BP Grangemouth, Dick Patrick, Eric Frank, Drew Rogers.

As I had brought my accordion along to play for country dancing exhibitions, I was Kinneil band, so we had the Fair Songs and a few well known Scottish marches, this was our own Fair Day in a “Foreign Field”. It was fortunate that none of our hosts arrived on the island that day or they would have carted us all away to have our heads examined. Can you imagine what their thoughts would have been to find this bunch of guys most of them in their late teens, wheeling, in a trek cart, one of their number bedecked in a white sheet wearing a headband of flowers the others dressed in an assortment of made up costumes following a guy playing an accordion and all singing songs. Guess we were a few years ahead of the Flower Power hippies of San Francisco.

The ironic part of the tale was that we crowned our queen at 10am only to discover on arriving back in Bo’ness that Queen Helen Gourlay had not been crowned until 12 o’clock midday due to inclement weather, so we had in fact been first at the crowning!! As a matter of interest our weather was simply scorching that day.

Although I never missed a Fair day, my next involvement was not until many years later in 1975 when my son Keith was at Deanburn School. Their presentees that year were The Pied Piper of Hamelin and Keith was chosen as the lame boy who was left behind and had the honour of being presented to the queen. Needless to say I had a small house frontage to commemorate the occasion and must admit I enjoyed this as I did it all on my own, I can also recall our Fair night party that lasted until 6 o’clock on the Saturday morning!!

Following on from 1975, I then volunteered to be a steward which continued for a few years. As time rolled on we moved home to Stewart Avenue and Keith and Joy moved to the Public School, then Keith’s Action Men figures as the sailors and we borrowed lifebelts from the ship breaking yard to complete the nautical design.

At long last Joy finally got her turn when she was a Lady in Waiting in Queen Lesley Anne Culbert’s court in 1982. So on went the thinking cap again for another house frontage, this time a much more feminine touch was required and we had an archway over the gate with a clock set at 11 o’clock and loads of flowers leading to the country house. The STV camera crew were there that year and we were chuffed to see our creation on the telly on the Fair night.

Due to our location close to the Glebe Park the house was always full to overflowing following the coronation ceremony, it became a toilet stop for various foreign bands and countless friends and relatives dropped in for a cuppa. Also if there were any emergencies the Fair Committee knew there was always help at hand at No. 19.

At the end of 1996 I finally retired from work and the following year my wife was asked to crown the Centenary Queen, Ashley Oldham from the Public School. What a wonderful time we both had! Doris-Anne thoroughly enjoyed all the preparation involved and great care was taken in choosing the outfit she wore for the coronation, after all if you were never a queen at the Fair the next best thing was to be chosen to crown the queen. She had a great time at the rehearsals with the children across the road at the school, and when the great day finally arrived we were delighted that it was dry although it was rather cold, but this was going to be a super day no matter what the weather. Kinneil Band came and played for us on the Fair morning and then it was off across to the Town Hall to meet the other guests. Of course the Committee had invited all the former surviving Bo’ness Fair Queen’s to attend and it was heartening to see so many turning out that day, and so nice to see and speak to some whom we had never seen for years.

As I had worked away from home for quite a number of years I did not have the opportunity to assist in any activities, so when I retired I decided I would try and do my bit for the community. I was approached by David Hannah the Procession Convenor of the Fair Executive Committee with an invite to become his Assistant for the 1998 Fair.

Up till that point I had never given too much thought to the logistics of running a procession as big as the Fair has, I must admit it came as a bit of a shock to realise the amount of work involved. Not only does David organise the procession, he also has the responsibility of organising all the bands, this is in itself a mammoth task and is one that he has done for 20 years. However I joined up and did all I possibly could to make David’s job a bit easier. During the 6 years I helped there were very few hiccups. Some minor skirmishes were quickly resolved and the show got on the road!!

I have now retired from the Executive Committee an am once more a member of the public on the Fair day with four grandchildren with whom I hope to enjoy many more Fairs. Every time I hear and sing the Fair songs there is always a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye because for me it will always be, as in the words of Douglas Snedden’s song “The Best Day of the Year”.


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