When I arrived in Bo’ness Public after the Easter holidays in April 1983, my first encounter with the then Headteacher, Cathy Andrews was a rather ‘frosty’ one, on account of me turning up at 8.58 thinking I had a good hour to get myself prepared and make a good impression, only to find out that schools in Falkirk Council, unlike Clackmannan, started at 9.00 and not 10.00 on the first day of a new term! My next ‘faux pas’ was asking the question, ‘And where is the gym hall?’, whilst standing in the open area of the now Infant block, to be told, ‘You’re standing in it!’
Coming from a school with a large Assembly Hall and stage, a gym hall with changing rooms and showers, my first thoughts were, ‘What have I done?’
The Fair day that year came very quickly after the start of my teaching career at the Public. Our presentee theme was ‘Hello Dolly’, Mrs Andrews being a big fan of musicals, ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ being another one of her favourites. On the day itself, I clearly remember suffering from hay fever whilst standing in the Glebe Park, surrounded by children complaining that they couldn’t see anything because of the adults standing in front of them. Advice given to pupils every year to ‘break in’ any new shoes clearly didn’t filter through to me, and after walking in the procession, during which time I was forced to inhale the toxic fumes of diesel engines, I arrived home to be asked by family, ‘Well, how was your first Fair?’. My response is not printable, but the fact that I spent the rest of the day with my feet covered in plasters and wearing my slippers probably sums it up.
Over the years, however, I became an ardent fan of the Fair in both my professional and personal life. I took to arch-building with great enthusiasm, but with carpentry not being part of my skill set, I became an expert in papier-mâché, constructing both a giant toad-stool and a golden Buddha in my front garden. (Should have put them in for a prize!)
In the following years, I became more involved in supporting pupils in the school in their preparations for the Fair, and in helping with the school frontage. Walter Ford, the school janitor at that time, took on the role of Fair Frontage Clerk of Works. He ‘knew a man’, who could do everything, and his coordination of planning, tradesmen and resources was second to none. Sadly, after his death, this position became vacant, and feeling the responsibility to carry on his legacy, in 2002, I was put in charge of the Frontage Committee.
Our theme was ‘Moulin Rouge’, and we were very ambitious in deciding to recreate the Windmill and café scene from this very popular film. With my recognised limited carpentry skills, this was quite a challenge, but thankfully a team of volunteer parents came forward, led by our own ‘Magnificent Two’, Jesty and Mulholland, who soon recruited the necessary workforce to expand this band of ‘merry men’ (and women) to a ‘Magnificent Seven +’, Jesty, Mulholland, Liddle, Burns, Brown, Frater & Lourie (and many others….)
Many a cold winter’s night was then spent up at Robert Kirk’s farm painting backdrops and the finely drawn figures for the café scene as well as constructing the windmill pieces and sails to be put together on the day. It truly was an engineering masterpiece, and after a cherry-picker had been deployed to raise the windmill onto the scaffolding, we stood up and looked up with pride at our efforts. At this point, Mrs Milne, the headteacher at the time, came out of the school to see the finished article. ‘Very good boys’ was her comment, ‘But do you think you could get the sails to turn?’.
Only if Jim Frater and I sit inside on bicycles attached to the sails, and pedal like the clappers’ was my initial thought. However, our ‘Magnificent Seven’ came to the rescue once again and came up with the idea of flashing lights to give the impression of movement.
Finding a network of support has been more challenging over the last two major Fairs at Bo’ness Public, but our own ‘Yul and Steve’ or Jesty and Mulholland have never let us down. Both with our ‘Camelot’ and ‘Spirit of London’ themes, they have created visual masterpieces in our school grounds. 2012, was to be their ‘swan-song’ with a much reduced depiction of the theme to be produced. Or that was the plan! However, yet again, scaffolding magically appeared and one of the last defining moments I will remember is Gordon Jesty balancing a large, heavy tower on his shoulders and climbing up the scaffolding to place it on our very own ‘Tower Bridge’.
This year’s School Frontage Committee is being led by one of our parents and consists of a group of senior pupils in school. It is based on giving pupils a meaningful learning experience in design and technology as well as utilising recycled materials as far as possible. Every child in the school has made an item to form part of it, so the final result really will belong to the whole school.
Fair E’en is always a very special part of the Fair for me. Walking round and seeing the spectacular arches across the town is something else, and Nicole Bell’s Buckingham Palace Balcony Scene surely ranks amongst the very best. Catching up with ex-pupils and their parents whilst out and about is always a very rewarding experience and one I particularly enjoy.
The 2007 and 2012 Bo’ness Public events in the school grounds, where the community were welcomed in to join in theme-based activities which included jousting, falconry and a Hog-Roast for ‘Camelot’ and strawberries and cream and a tennis taster session for ‘The Spirit of London’ helped to keep the school at the heart of the Fair, and were very positively commented on by all those who attended.
Recently I have walked every year at the front of the school carrying the banner with my good friend, and now school janitor, James ‘Fritz’ Frater and the First Lady of Bo’ness, Mrs Ann Ritchie, keeping the presentees and us in check as we make our way through the town. I swear that between the two of them they know every resident of Bo’ness.
Some school staff do, on occasion, suffer from the rather unfriendly banter from the crowd as schools go through certain unfamiliar parts of the town. However, being called ‘Sydney’ a well-known crooner of yester year (thankfully!) was not such an insult to me, as he is in fact a distant relative on my father’s side!
In looking forward to the Bo’ness Fair 2017, I yet again find myself working part-time in the school for the summer term, and will be supporting the retinue throughout the day. A really impressive group of children as always from the Public School. This will be my 34th year walking in the procession, and will see me accompanying my last retinue. What I am looking forward to in years to come is standing somewhere along the procession route and actually seeing the Fair unfolding before me, in all its glory, something I have never had the chance to do.
Finally, I have many fond and lasting memories over the years, but Douglas Snedden stands out for me as being the heart and soul of the Bo’ness Fair, and epitomises the love this town has for this,‘The Best Day of the Year’.
Bo’ness Public School 1983-2015