When you move to a new country you tend only to think of the major things that will be different and overlook the small things that you will miss. Since I moved to Florida four years ago the list of events I look back on fondly has grown with every day that passes. I think in part it stems from the fact that I am a “the grass is always greener/glass is half full” kind of guy but there is something to be said for some of the old traditions back home.
As we head into May I can expect to get a phone call from my parents within the next few weeks explaining how they have been out all day at the town fayre. In the small Hertfordshire town that I am from the annual May fayre was a big deal. For any Americans reading this try and imagine Oscar night and the Superbowl rolled into one, add a few crowded pubs, the odd carney and hey presto you have the Sawbridgeworth Fayre. When I was a kid I thought it was great because it was one of the few times that my parents would let us roam freely around the village green without watching our every step. Usually I would have my sister persuade my Dad to give us a few quid and then we would head over to the attractions. The “attractions” were modest even by the cheapskate standards of village events. Basically the big thrill was a tiny airbone carousel where you could sit in either a red or blue plane and slowly rotate at above 5 feet above sea level for about 40 seconds per ride. It was amazing ! I would have stayed on it all day but for the temptation to gamble. Yes gambling was encouraged at a young age in Hertfordshire as our token town carney lured unsuspecting kids into handing over the 50 pence pieces in the vain hope that they might win a prize. Our local carney was an odd kind of fellow with a glass eye and an abnormally small head. He wore a mullett hairstyle well into the 90’s and when he wasn’t ripping off kids at the fayre he was propping up the bar in the “Queens Head” pub. I don’t recall his name but since I knew a similarly strange fellow who went by the name “Carney” I will just refer to the glass eyed boy as “Carney” for the purposes of this tale. So Carney ran about three stalls all of which involved some element of luck and the apparent ability to win a prize. If you were lucky enough to win he always found some kind of reason why he couldn’t give you a decent prize and instead gave you a “gonk.” I won two of these one summer some years back, one was blue and the other was white. I was pleased at first just because I had actually won but once I got home and realised that “gonks” were nothing more than toilet rolls with a strip of fake fur glued around them and and two ping pong balls attached as eyes, I was a little annoyed with Carney.
Aside from the one ride and the rip off merchant the fayre always attracted Sawbo’s weirdest residents. The bearded men and one or two bearded women of the surrounding area would show up in outfits that appeared to be made from rags and shredded news papers and try to pass themselves off as “morris dancers.” It was kind of like an episode of the Mr Men. Mr Fat the biggest man in town would have his “double glazing” stand which basically was just an advertisement and not in anyway a true attraction. Mr Boring would team up with Mr Drunk, Mr Short and Mr “I can’t afford a razor or shampoo” and and perform the lousiest attempt at Barbershop since Sweeney Todd. Sometimes the fire brigade would show up and once this complete nutter called “Mad Ken” who walked around town all winter without a shirt on showed up in his WWII army tank and for 25 pence each all the local kids got to jump all over it for 10 minutes spells. Kids loved all of this crap whilst the parents got quietly wasted whilst feigning interest in the fortunes of the local cricket team who always seemed to lose unsually badly on this day. Luckily for those chaps it usually rained after lunch so they could save some pride due the inclement weather forcing a drawn game. Unluckily for Carney all his gonks cardboard centres quickly fell apart in the rain and he must have lost 2 or even 3 quid to weather damage each year. It is kind of sad that we don’t have this to look forward to in Florida but the even sadder thing is that I actually miss it ! What is wrong with me ?!!!