Firstly, the smell.
Funfair smells of popcorn, cumin, and ozone :sweets – candy floss, maybe- and the greasing of the machinery against black sky. An emotion. A very odd, realistic, popcorn aroma is what you experience – and something uncanny. It is not an easy ride —– how I loved rollercoasters, dodgem cars, all the terrors before – now in my current state of compromised equilibrium I can’t imagine anything worse —— the fragrance having something niggling about it; addictive, nauseating, that you can’t quite get enough of.
The other day, D put Funfair on by mistake when he went off to work – thankfully only one spray to the wrist – confusing the bottle with another far more conventional perfume Fougère Intense from the same house which is more teacher’s roomfriendly. When he knelt down to say goodbye to me in the morning (I was still asleep) there was a ozonic tinge and caramelised caress on my pillow there when I woke up again. With its homely, sinister smell, I wondered how he was going to get through the daywithout anybody commenting. Whether all the girls in his classes would get the munchies.
When the funfair used to come to town, by travellers and carnies, from afar ( – they were real outsiders : you could sense, the moment you set eyes on them before you even heard them speak that they ‘were not from around here’, and it elicited a great excitement. But also a fear. Something unknown entering the usually empty park at night against the silhouette of trees). There was a darkness behind all the machinery; the bright lights flashing against the night: I felt switched on, very sharp, but also afraid. My brother could readily get lost for hours on the beach just wandering off and playing in the sea making sand castles, causing the worst possible panic for my parents, whose desperation and distress were physically palpable, a flash of metal in the blood you could taste, dizzyingly fearful – I tried to block the unfurling in my mind ( but this was the era of the Yorkshire Ripper and other murders and we heard about things on the news………..) – until he was eventually found none the wiser. Just happily absorbed. Then when we were out one Saturday night at the fair, he ambled off again; we couldn’t find him – so fraught – I think the police were called; though I don’t know how this was possible; how the attendant hadn’t noticed – not seeing him just going round and round, on one particular ride, preoccupied, laughing to himself in delight for what felt like several hours.
Other memories: my nan having a minor heart attack, but laughing continually about it as it was happening, on the ‘waltzers’, which veer and pull back with such incredible physical velocity so that you grip the bar and scream your heart out watching your paternal grandmother’s eyes roll back into her head and coughing but still somehow loving it ; saying to Duncan ‘I love you’ for the first time when on vertiginously high ride at the Strawberry Fair in Cambridge, a folky, hairy, cider-swilling kind of affair that is not really my gig but was great to visit once year : his sheer child-like wonder at the funhorror, the vertical swoops and drops and gut-swilling sudden yanking to the side got to me, and I realized the lack of pretence – the joy he was experiencing as we reached the highest point that looked down over the River Cam and I turned to him and told him.
Many years later we went to New Orleans and Florida with his family to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary,; at Busch Gardens, I think it was in Orlando, on by far the most terrifying rollercoaster I have ever been on hanging over the sea at night; then four or five of us on a white knuckle rafting time ‘attraction’, spinning helplessly under waterfalls and the drowning water cannons on the bank fired by people who had paid for the privilege (the word ‘soaked’ doesn’t even begin to cover it, and it was so cold – it was winter – that our teeth were shattering like skulls and I thought we would all get pneumonia). But there were, if you kept putting money into the slots – some hilariously full size ‘human hairdryers’ we climbed straight into for warmth, where we slowly managed to get dried off and I amused the nieces and nephews and passersby with my boxer short twerking as we gradually got slightly less wet dancing together and sunset turned to darkness and illuminations; the crowds gradually making their way back to their respective cars.
Funfair brings back a lot of this. It’s a novelty scent – but more than a one-note Demeter. It captures something intangible. The fun and the anxiety. The sickliness of overeating. The burnt, electrical frisson of the cold night air. I remember my brother and I, probably at my own instigation, having started watching the Hammer Horror films only very recently at that time, even though we knew that we shouldn’t ,because we were both just too petrified at the core level later on when we had to go to bed. The previous week’s episode, which we had been allowed to stay up to watch because of my nagging, was the terrifying House That Bled To Death – after which jelly and ice-cream and children’s birthday parties were never quite the same again. (D and I actually watched it again the other week : those 70’s soft core, vaseline-lensed films are now all available online, and it is still really quite creepy, with its surburbian macabre and curtain-shocking plot twist, even for an adult: )no wonder it crawled so deep under the skin of seven and nine year olds as we riled each other into getting more and more disturbed and overexcited as the night went on). We knew, that when we got home that night, after tiring of the fair, or of running out of pocket money to go on any more rides, we would be watching another episode in the lounge on TV about a killer werewolf (or was it the witch?) : howling at the moon with hair erect. I had shivers of anticipation running in my veins at the thought of it all. But for now, just one carousel or Ferris wheel or or the helter skelter …..oh go on, please.….