(Post by Mark Arbuckle of Glasgow – November 2021)
Like most people I have a rather complicated relationship with Fairgrounds, The Shows, Amusement Parks, whatever you like to call them.
Excited, scared and bravado in equal measures.
My earliest memory is being taken to the Kelvin Hall Circus and Carnival in the early 60’s where the smell of the elephants left an olfactory impression on me for many, many years!
Clydebank had it’s own annual fairground on the waste ground where St. Andrew’s HS would be built in the 80’s and then demolished 20 years later.
I was taken to there in 1967 at age of nine by my grandparents. I thought I’d start with something gentle and build up to the more fearsome looking rides.
I chose a sedate looking motorcycle merry go round. Off it went with myself and a few other kids grinning at their family members.
After a few laps the leather clad, carny thought he’d have a bit of fun and cranked up the speed! The motorcycle had a purple velvet seat and I started to slide off it.
No seatbelts or H&S in those days!
The carny continued to increase the speed until my torso was now at right angles to the bike!I was holding on grimly to the handlebars.
The other kids were screaming and so was my Gran as she saw me whizzing round with my head barely 6″ from the ground! A man rushed up to the carny and grabbed him, shouting ‘Stop the Bloody Machine!’
It began to slow down and another man helped me to regain my seat!
My Gran was crying and very, very angry as she accosted the now sheepish looking carny with a few expletive deletives!!
I did return the following year but avoided THAT ride!
In the late 60’s my family’s annual holiday was two weeks in a small hotel in Whitley Bay.
Four kids, my parents and stacks of luggage all packed into a car for what seemed like an eight hour journey!
Are we there yet?…
The main attraction of Whitley Bay was The Spanish City!
An amusement park which at the time boasted Europe’s Biggest & Fastest Rollercoaster.
I LOVED IT!
I went every day with my siblings. There was a machine with a manical laughing clown just inside the main entrance.
Maybe that’s where Stephen King got his idea for IT!
I was initially a bit scared of the ‘Biggest Rollercoaster in Europe’ but once I’d experienced it for the first time I excitedly jumped off and rejoined the queue to go again!
There was also a Ghost Train which I thought was very tame until somebody in the dark shadows, dressed all in black touched my face as the train slowed down at a corner! I nearly jumped out of my seat!
Again no seatbelts!
Local lad Mark Knopfler wrote a song about this magical place in 1980.
‘Tunnel of Love‘ by Dire Straits
Yeah, now I am searchin’ through these carousels and the carnival arcade
Searching everywhere, from steeplechase to balustrades
In any shooting galleries where promises are made
To rockaway, rockaway
From Cullercoats to Whitley Bay. And to Rockaway
‘And girl it looks so pretty to me like it always did
Like the Spanish city to me when we were kids
Girl it looks so pretty to me like it always did
Like the Spanish city to me when we were kids.’
Sadly, after 93 years as an amusement Park, The Spanish City closed in 1999.
However it reopened in 2018 as a spectacular wedding and conference venue! Both Mark Knopfler and Sting attended the Grand Reopening!
I will visit it very soon!
Our last family holiday was in 1972 in Blackpool.
The obvious attraction was The Pleasure Beach and yes I visited it a couple of times over the fortnight. To be honest I was more attracted to a much smaller showground in the north of the town.
I was nearly 15 and was captivated by everything about it!
My every sense was on overload!
The smell of grease, both from the rides and burger stands.
The sweet scents of Candy Floss and Popcorn.
The intoxicating aromas of perfume, perspiration and peanuts!
The sounds of laughter, squeals of delight and tantrums….and that was just me!
And the sights!
OH MY THE SIGHTS!
Pulsating lights, brightly painted rides, the strutting exotic carnys and, most memorable of all, the pretty girls in denim jackets and short skirts! Giggling in packs!
And of course the music of the early 1970’s pounding out from huge speakers on every stall and ride!
‘Lola,’ ‘Layla,’ ‘Let’s Work Together’ (and other songs’ names that begin with L!)
Three Dog Night‘s ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come‘
Whenever I hear this song I’m instantly transported back to that show ground!
‘Black Night‘ by Deep Purple, ‘All Right Now ‘by Free.’ In The Summer Time‘ by Mungo Jerry, ‘Son of My Father ‘by Chicory Tip, ‘Blockbuster’ by Sweet and the glorious anthem of 1972, ‘Schools Out’ by the inimitable Alice Cooper!
I was totally in my element!
Every day I endured walks along the promenade, shopping or a bit of sunbathing, (where I actually got burned!… Yes in Blackpool!?!) but the whole time I was anticipating the delicious excitement of the evening to come!
By December 1974 I was going steady. My great friend Rab was going on a first date with a girl and I suggested we go as a foursome to The Kelvin Hall Carnival.
In preparation for his date, Rab bought new jeans and shoes and a trendy short beige raincoat. The kind that is back in fashion now!
I have to confess that I can’t remember his date’s name….
(I don’t think I ever knew it) only that everyone knew her as Duck!?!…..
We excitedly browsed the stalls and bought hot dogs slathered in onions and mustard. Then we had Candy Floss, Cola and Chocolate.
Rab’s date was going very well.
We’d already gone on the obligatory (for courting couples) Ghost Train and Dodgems where you were allowed, nay encouraged, to smash into each other’s cars!
And we’d all tried to win a prize at the clearly rigged shooting gallery and throw the ring over the jam jar to win a goldfish.
Rab then said that we should have a go on The Waltzer.
He went on first followed by Duck, then myself and my girlfriend.
We settled in, pulled the safety bar up to our laps and off we went.
It immediately accelerated and a carny (maybe a relative of my torturor in 1967) jumped onto the back of our car and started to violently spin it, to our initial delight.
After about two minutes I glanced to my right and saw that Duck’s face had totally drained of colour and she was rocking forward over the safety bar. She suddenly sat back upright and started to retch, turning towards me…..
At the last second I gently but firmly guided her head in the other direction.
She then vomited spectacularly all over Rab!
And remember our waltzer carriage was still spinning at top speed!
Rab was covered in undigested hot dog, candy floss and a brownish bile from his head to his knees! So too was poor Duck and she was still vomiting but now into the carriage at our feet!
Mercifully the ride finally slowed down and came to a stop. Unbelievably the carny was shouting at us that we owed him money to clean the carriage.
Big Rab with vomit still dripping from his hair told him to go forth and multiply!
We all headed to the toilets.
I helped Rab to clean up and my girlfriend attempted to perform a miracle on Duck!
Rab used hot water to clean his hair, face, coat and jeans and then used every toilet roll and paper towel in a vain attempt to dry off.
The girls finally emerged from the Ladies about 45 minutes later. Duck was still very pale, disheveled looking and, to be honest, still a bit smelly.
We unanimously decided to call it a night. So we headed out on to a chilly Argyle Street to catch the bus home to Clydebank.
Nobody spoke much on the journey home.
Sadly we never ever saw Duck again! (Maybe for the best…)
Hopefully she is now a loving grandmother and entertains her grandchildren with stories of her past….
But maybe NOT this particular one!!