August 29 2005

Four buzzards have moved into the woods beyond the field at the back of our house and spend much of the day soaring above the common, ducking and diving to avoid skirmishes with a bunch of Hell’s Angel crows.
For the best part of a week, though, the crows have had the skies to themselves and you don’t need a bird book to explain why.
The fair’s back at Milford. It comes for a few days every year at the end of August and sets up shop for the bank holiday. For the crows it’s a treat not to be missed, offering scavenging possibilities beyond the normal weekend litter. Each morning you see them flat-footing methodically across the common, heads down like police looking for clues.
But the buzzards clearly don’t like the fuss and have taken to the hills.
I’m with the crows on this; the fair is a treat.
It’s just a painted shadow of what it was, but it’s always good to see the wagons roll in and the magic begin all over again.
An Express & Star library photograph of the fair in the late 50s shows it in its catch-penny, prize-every-time heyday. Every inch of the common is covered with sideshows and rides; and people, shoulder to shoulder, not a smile between them. Having fun was a serious business.
In those days the fair came three times a year, for the Easter, Whit and August bank holidays. Often, we’d bike out from Stafford and spend half an hour drinking in the excitement before blowing our pocket money on the bumping cars (dodgems came later) and waltzers and making ourselves sick on candyfloss and brandysnaps.
Sometimes, we’d catch a bus and push and shove our way to the front seat upstairs so we’d be first to catch a glimpse of the big wheel.
More than once we changed our money into coppers and lost it all on the roll-a-penny stall where the girls whipped away your coins before they stopped rolling and very occasionally slung two or three back like expert gamblers dealing cards.
We’d try to knock a pile of cans off the shelf with preposterously lightweight beanbags or make wooden balls bounce into buckets. It always looked so easy, but we rarely won. If we did we’d walk tall, flaunting our trophy: a coconut, a goldfish or a lucky black cat made of plaster.
Once, whizzing round on the chair-planes, my bus fare dropped out of my pocket and I watched two kids pounce on it like piranhas. I had to walk the four miles home.
The chair-planes aren’t there any more; they’ve gone the way of the swingboats and the hoop-las and the crowds, but the music keeps playing and the generator still thumps away like a heart that doesn’t know when to give up.
I took my grand-daughter at the weekend and bruised my knee while she went mad on the dodgems and tumbled her way round the Amazon Jungle, which is what they call the cakewalk nowadays.
As always, the fair promises more than it delivers, like a ticket for the ghost train, and by tomorrow it will have disappeared, leaving just a small patch of diesel and the faintest whiff of candyfloss and hot dogs.
The crows will have a field day and the buzzards will head back from the hills. They don’t know what they’ve been missing.


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