It’s a real honour to be asked for input into the design of an arch, and over the years I’ve been involved with a ‘Fair’ few! Mind you, the journey from the idea in my head to the finished creation isn’t always a bed of roses and come the hallowed Fair E’en when there’s still shed loads to do it’s not the first time I’ve vowed ‘never again’! But then come February when the Retinue and all the other characters are being chosen and champing at the bit to find out who’s been picked for what and if there’s anyone I know who might need a hand. The firs thing that needs to be done is look at the area we have to work with and I also have to establish what the family themselves in particular the child whose arch it is want. I usually arrive with a couple of ideas and I always try and offer something that emulates the theme that the school has picked, although it can be good to come up with something a little bit different.
I’m often asked which of the arches I have designed is my favourite and I have to admit that it has to be the Merlin snow globe for Amy Portis, when she was the Queen of the Flower Girls for the Public School in 2007. The snow globe was achieved with a thick transparent plastic inflatable sphere that opened to accommodate our Medieval Merlin. It was then zipped up the back and inflated using a custom made hand blower. Once it was blown up it was anchored to the stack of books by way of four strong rubber loops that moulded to the base of the ball and tied onto four large screw in hooks. Fully filled with air the giant ball measured a spectacular three metres and this had been performed only once up at Galbraith’s Farm where the rest of the arch was being built. I had safeguarded that inflatable sphere with my life as I was absolutely terrified it would be damaged and the whole arch would be ruined. You can imagine my face when during the trial I noticed that Elaine (Amy’s mum) who very sadly died last year was supporting it with a glowing orange cigarette in her hand! On the Wednesday evening before the Fair Day we had everything in place, leaving only the sphere to be inflated the next day for the folk going round the arches. What I didn’t bargain for was a very windy Fair E’en so blowy in fact that when we inflated the giant spectacle, the wind caught the ball enough to topple the weighted Merlin inside which consequently ripped the secured loops out of the hooks, and the ball, Merlin and all landed in the front garden. I can’t repeat what I said next and although we managed to sort it all out it took me a long time to see the funny side of that one!
Once the design of the arch has been decided it’s amazing how it all takes shape with friends, family and neighbours volunteering their various skills. It’s astonishing what a determined Arch Committee can shamelessly beg, steal or borrow and I am always gobsmacked at what people hoard in their garages, huts and attics that can be recycled and used in the project. For example in Queen Shanagh Penman’s Arch last year the Tim Man that drove the Bo’ness Tour Bus was made almost entirely out of a roll of linoleum. While visiting the library with my youngest son I persuaded the librarian to let me have the posters from their Hippodrome exhibit once they had dismantled it. When we were going around the arches last Fair E’en I bumped into my pal who is a lab technician at Bo’ness Academy. She had provided me with some old test tubes that I had filled with green dye water and plugged with blue tac to use for the mini emerald city in the floral display that was in the Hippodrome window. She had just finished pointing out that wee Emerald City to her husband telling him proudly that that was her contribution to the whole spectacle and for me that honestly sums it all up. Every little thing that someone does or contributes to help, no matter how large or small makes a massive difference. A chance conversation Shanagh’s dad had two days before the Fair E’en last year with a stranger who was admiring the Bus enabled us to finish off the job with custom made front grill. I suppose the motto of that particular story is buy nothing until you absolutely have to someone almost certainly always has what you need or if they don’t they usually know a man who does.
If I could change anything about the way our town embraces the whole approach to building an Arch for their child no matter what part they have to play in the Bo’ness Fair I would try and reduce the amount of props, figures and other marvellous things that are sadly thrown away after the event. I understand that it’s impossible to keep everything but in this day and age it’s becoming less and less acceptable to be so unmindful of the whole Reduce Reuse Recycle society we live in. I would love to see some sort of storage facility in the town where things could be taken after the big day, stripped down and bundled into lots to be perhaps sold or indeed auctioned in early March once the Fair characters have been picked. All proceeds could of course go to the Fair fund and I for one would be more than happy to become involved in co-ordinating and implementing this if anyone else is up for it. When my own eldest son was Yeoman of the Guard in 1998, the St Mary’s had that year was Disney. Our Arch consisted of a giant cake and we had about a dozen various Disney figures painstakingly made. These lay up mu loft for a few years as they were just too good to be thrown away. When the St Margaret’s family centre opened up in Cornton Vale prison where I work, I drove the jail bus to my house to pick them up and they are now nailed to the fence that surrounds the outdoor play area where the women have visits with their children.
This year I’m as excited about the Fair as I was when I was a bairn, if it’s in your blood like it is in mine you don’t get to choose. I’m helping my cousin make the most fabulous Bo’ness Fair Door Wreaths to compliment the copious amount of flags that festoon the town and the arches I’m doing this year are well underway, fingers crossed there’ll be no hiccups. I’m already thinking about next year as my wee boys pal could be the champion and I have his arch half planned.