(by Paul Fitzpatrick: March 2021)
When I was a kid, I loved going to the Carnival at the Kelvin Hall at Xmas, there was just something magical about it – it was a full out attack on the senses.
First there was the noise – chart hits being pumped out from every ride, plus the accompanying sirens, bells and whistles and of course the whoops and screams from the punters.
Then there were the smells – everything from the sweet smell of freshly spun candy floss to the not so sweet, throat-gagging, odour of elephant dung from the neighbouring circus.
And finally, the lights – bright, flashing, colourful, a bit like Vegas, it could have been any time of the day in there, you’d never know.
It was an alternative universe we visited once or twice a year and it never disappointed.
You could spend hours there just soaking it all up but normally it only took 60-90 minutes to spend whatever money you had. Frittering away your last few pennies in the penny-falls machine in the vain hope of extending your stay.
Inevitably walking away on the brink of a big pay-out with an avalanche of two pence’s hanging over the edge!
Then there were the rides.
We all had our favourites and our strategies to make the most of them.
For me the Waltzers were always number one but only if the ‘Waltzer guys’ supplemented the experience by manually spinning the contraption around. This however was a fete exclusively reserved for the girls they were looking to impress.
It was quite a dance, watching them weave their way effortlessly around the heavy duty machinery, snake like, waltzer to waltzer whilst eyeing up the talent.
We may have been young and daft but we spotted this pretty quickly and employed a tactic where we would split up into pairs before joining the two most eligible girls we could find that had space in their Waltzer.
We’d done our research and we knew with some certainty, that this particular Waltzer was going to get hurled around the West End of Glasgow something rotten.
The girls were normally a couple of years older and were oblivious to us and our rouse, totally swept up as they were in the attention of the Waltzer Guys and the fact that this chariot of metal was about to spin off its axis into the Clyde.
It was a tactic that served us well and I would still recommend it to any young pups out there looking to maximise their Waltzer experience.
Another top ride was the Rotor, a concept based on centrifugal force pressing you against the cylinder wall of the ride, as the floor below disappears.
Rotating at dizzying speeds, you were literally stuck to the wall like an insect to flypaper until the giant food blender came to a stop and the floor re-emerged.
Being Glasgow of course, there were plenty of gallus punters who didn’t respect the laws of Newtonian Mechanics, so you had guys doing hand stands against the wall, people trying to consume fizzy drinks and worst of all, numpties jumping on the ride after scoffing a baked potato or such like.
The result was nearly always the same and I can confirm that a combination of centrifugal force and vomit is not pleasant for anyone involved.
Think Problem Child 2 for any of you that have seen it!
Everyone had their favourites – the ghost train, the dodgems, the rib-tickler, the fast motorbikes, the cyclone, the umbrellas and the chairoplanes but apart from the odd scramble for a specific dodgem that you had convinced yourself was 50mph faster than the rest, I don’t seem to remember ever having to wait long to get on a ride.
Certainly none of this 30-minute waiting time malarkey that you see now.
Then there were the salon games you were encouraged to play, the challenges that always looked so easy to win, with the big unattainable prizes stacked behind them as an incentive.
Throw a small hoop over an ever so slightly larger plinth and win a diamond ring, throw rock-hard table-tennis balls into a jam jar and if by some miracle you manage to get them to stay in and they don’t bounce out again, win a Rolex, knock the superglued coconuts off their shy with a foam ball and win a holiday to Vegas! …..(okay I’m taking it too far now!)
In all my years I never saw any of our crowd win anything other than a goldfish in a plastic bag and that was by hooking a few plastic yellow ducks out of a puddle of water, an attraction normally reserved for 5-year-olds.
I can also confirm that taking Goldie the goldfish onto the rotor wasn’t the best idea.
Then there was the penny arcade with its plethora of slot machines, that split into two types.
None of them rewarding….
Ones where you could win cash prizes (like the fruit machines or penny-falls) but never did.
Or ones like the big crane thingy with the giant claw, where you could win prizes like watches and jewellery. However, the only thing I ever saw this badly constructed piece of Meccano collect in it’s giant tentacle was cheap key-rings.
In saying that we never went out with the intention of coming back with anything substantial, and we knew that any money won was just going to be ploughed straight back into the place anyway.
Every ride pumped out music at maximum volume and the better the song the more enjoyable the ride, the song that reminds me most of the Kelvin Hall is Shaft by Isaac Hayes, a perfect soundtrack for the time.
‘Who’s the cat who won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?’
My grandparents lived in Partick so I used to go to the Carnival regularly as a youngster, however, my peak Kelvin Hall years were when I was around 13/14, young enough for it still to be a big adventure but old enough to go on my own with my pals.
For all the excitement I do remember trying to keep my wits about me, wary of a different crowd and wary of the speed and velocity I was being flung around this palace of fun – but it was always invigorating.
At 13 you tend not to over-think things, you just live in the moment and enjoy it, so it was tragic to learn that there was an accident on Boxing day in 1978 when two people unfortunately lost their lives on a ride called the Concorde Flyer, due to a machine malfunction.
I remember going to the circus a couple of times as well, but that was usually a trip with the Cubs and the only reason for going was the 30 minutes you’d get to go on the rides afterwards.
I’d left the Kelvin Hall behind by 1974 and had moved onto the big-boy rides at Blackpool’s pleasure beach – namely The Grand National and The Big Dipper.
Then when our own kids were old enough we went to Disneyland and Universal’s Island of Adventure in Orlando and of course pretended it was for the kids benefit.
The rides and the entertainment in Florida are on a different level of course – The Hulk Coaster, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, etc but for all the razzmatazz I’m still not sure anything compares with the Waltzer at the Kelvin Hall on a cold December night with two bonnie lassies onboard and an amorous Waltzer guy – geien it laldy!