Saturday, 3 October 2009

Goose Fair unvisited

I learnt about Goose Fair on my first visit to Nottingham, twenty-one years ago. The traffic jams were the first clue that something was going on. "Goose Fair," locals explained, and later, leaving Nottingham, I gazed at the huge expanse of fairground lights and wished I were among the crowds clutching bags, purses, toys, balloons and children as they swarmed around the vast site.

No-one is quite sure of the origins of Goose Fair. A book from the 1930s comments snootily that it is "not of any high antiquity, for the earliest mention of it is in 1541." People in Nottingham know that's rubbish. The fair celebrated its 700th anniversary in 1994 - I was there with my parents and children. More recently, writers have suggested it's more than 1,000 years old. It won't be long before someone establishes that it was set up by Druids or visited by Alfred the Great or Julius Caesar. But in fiction it was certainly visited by Arthur Seaton in Alan Sillitoe's novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which captures some of the wildness.

My mum didn't see the point of fairs - all that money for a short ride when you could buy a good book or a theatre ticket instead. But I loved the thrills, the garish prizes, the crowds, the shouting, the smells and the tastes of fairground food. I don't think I've ever bought the Nottingham speciality of "cocks on sticks," usually bought with a giggle from a stall-holder who was bored with the joke years ago and is more concern with the quality of the lurid confections. But it was at Goose Fair that I discovered the joys of hot mushy peas, seasoned with pepper and mint sauce and eaten from a small tub.

It's proper Goose Fair weather today: cold, windy with the possibility of rain. Sometimes the crowd stomp and teeter through mud to the cakewalk, the gallopers, the big wheel, the hook-a-duck stalls and all the other rides and games of chance. Bad weather is no excuse for missing Goose Fair though it drives many to the Scouts' simple brick building where the sale of tea and sandwiches to sheltering crowds probably funds activities for the following year.

I'd like to go to Goose Fair again though I no longer have the excuse of taking children. I can hardly take a tall 18-year-old to hear the ringing of the Goose Fair bell or suggest he hold my hand if he's scared by the rush of the Magic Mouse or the neon skeletons of the ghost train. Perhaps next year I'll take my camera again or see if a friend wants to experience the rides. This year it would definitely be unwise. I've pulled a muscle and don't want to risk the pain of jostling crowds or further damage that might be caused by the attempt to maintain my balance on the jiggling of the cakewalk. Tying my shoelaces is quite bad enough though I'm surprised to discover that attempting to stab people with an epee turns out to be an almost pain-free experience.

Perhaps next year I'll find time to go on the quiet first afternoon, when rides are cheaper. I may even stop at one of the fortune-telling booths in the neighbouring front gardens - not because I believe in fortune-telling but because I'm uneasy about the rules banning fortune-tellers from the Goose Fair site. When I first moved to the East Midlands, people said openly that gypsies weren't allowed on the Goose Fair site. The current rules simply say that fortune-telling and character-reading are banned.

The wind is getting stronger - it just threw one of the wheelie bins to the ground. I reckon I'll be warmer and more comfortable indoors - and I have the fifth Thursday Next book to finish.

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