“I am finding it hard to keep the noise down.” The speaker’s overalls were too thin to hide the sweat hollows. He had plunged what seemed to be his arm into a large cranking machine...as a lever! I stared in disbelief at the spinning flywheels and the crossmeshing of heavyduty cogs. For a short while, whatever he did appeared to work, since the crashing gears abated. Then, with a wink and a halfsmile, he withdrew the jagged stump of his arm...
* * *
The rest of the Fair was comparatively humdrum… and I had not even paid to witness the performance of the conscientious handyman in charge of the ferriswheel engine.
One item that did catch both my eyes, however, was a mediumsized marquee with an archetypal crowdstirrer outside, standing on a beerbarrel and waving his arms about. There was a twodimensional largerthanlife pasteboard model of a dog beside him and, even if I couldn’t hear precisely what the cheerleader was promoting, I didn’t have to guess at the nature of the show. The model dog had two heads on one body. Evidently, a mongrel.
I relinquished twopencehalfpenny to the crone with the ticket roll in her charge. Excruciatingly slowly, she tore off one ticket, ensuring that the rough edge was as straight as possible. In the process, she accidentally unravelled the rest of the tickets which, I could see with amusement, she painstakingly rewound on to the spool, before serving the next customer.
Inside (and still sharing a giggle with myself), I found it was darker than I expected it to be from the first impression of the marquee’s redandwhite silk billows - a bent old man whose face was hidden by the shadow of his nose proceeded to snatch the ticket from my hand so as to tear it in half...
I was therefore unsuprised to discover that the show had already started before I arrived in the hemispherical auditorium AND a huge logjam of braying prospective onlookers behind me.
The sun cast one narrow shaft through the unmanmade gap in the pinnacle which seemed to follow the act as it was led around the ring. It was not the dog, as THAT was evidently to be the grand finale. The elephant with three trunks did not seem to be in the same class.
Eventually, the complete crowd had all straggled in with their ticket stubs and settled noisily upon the tiered wooden benches. A few desultory acts were still being wheeled around. The only one (other than the unmemorable elephant) that I really recall was the bearded lady. Not only did did she have curlers in the beard, she also gave me a sweet smile. Or I took it as if the smile was directed towards me and, indeed, that it was a sweet one.
I heard the distant cackle of a laughing policeman dummy. It must have been going on for a long time, but this was the first time that I had noticed it. As the bearded lady ambled into the darkness of the tunnel leading to the menagerie, the angle of the sunbeam shifted from the esoteric crosspoint of meanings and the ring was thrown into shuddering shadow.
The audience shushed each other, fingers pressed to mouths in demonstration. The shushing was somewhat louder than their normal hubbub, so that the announcement that emerged from a tinny tannoy was entirely lost on me. Then, as silence gradually emptied the arena of noise, I could hear faraway shrieks from the ghosthouse - far too insistent to be tokens of joyful excitement.
The ticket woman hobbled in.
Could there be someone in the audience who had actually limboed in under the gaze of her scrutiny? For God’s sake, it appeared as if she were about to check everybody’s ticket half! Amidst moans and groans (and some squelches) - AND some pretty unrepeatable insults - she began to make a systematic checking. Then she came to me...
I searched my pockets in near panic. At the best of times, I could never find my comb. I KNEW I had been issued with a ticket. But where the hell was it? It must be lost in the lining. One pocket had dreadfully jagged holes, leading to regions of my jacket even I dared not plumb for fear of what I might find. In the end, with her beady eyes upon me, I took the plunge and...CHOMP! The little beast that had somehow crept into my jacket and lurked there, scuttled into the ring. It wagged its tail, as one head smirked and the other chewed. For a miniature it must have had extremely sharp teeth.
The onslaught of applause around me at the sight of this prize specimen of Creation in a revived cast of sunbeam shamed me into clapping, too. Or as best as I could, in the circumstances.
Published 'Dementia 13' 1990