Ah, the primary school summer fayre. I cannot help but be immediately seduced by the pseudo-archaic spelling of ‘fair’, becoming lost in a delightful reverie involving small children galloping across the meadow lured toward the melodic chimes of the carousel, before taking it in turns on the tin can alley and finally amusing themselves in the sun-dappled playground with a hula hoop and a short stick.
Hang on. Wait a minute. That nonsense must be as a result of eight long years of sleep deprivation. We all bloody know that is not how a school fair goes. So let’s rewind and start again. Let’s just begin with FAYRE shall we? In fact, no, let’s not sodding begin. Let’s all agree to STOP using that heinous crime of a word, right now. The general consensus (I read it on wikibollocks, so it must be true) is that it was made up, in a pathetic attempt to denote something old. Like distressed denim. I think I prove my point right there.
But that is only the merest trifle of irritation (and there’s a dessert I have been forced to eat one too many times as a parent) compared to the rest of the school fair.
Let’s start with the cost. Yes, I know it is a good cause, and my children will benefit. They bloody well better had, anyway. On the positive side, I spent so much money that I am pretty certain my contribution alone will facilitate the purchase of at least six new iPads, a new digital white board and eighteen packs of plastic-handled scissors so blunt they couldn’t cut a dash, let alone a thin piece of sugar paper.
And talking of money not well spent, here are the fairground rides. When I was young – when we had the pleasure of a small bottle of luke-warm milk at play time and primary school consisted mainly of colouring in, singing and learning the maypole (don’t ask) – a fairground ride was so flipping exciting your eyes would water and your sphincter would loosen. This weekend I got exactly the same reaction when they told me how much it would cost for one spin on the tiny ride they had thoughtfully provided for their retirement plan the entertainment of the kids. £2.50. I looked at B, who had in the meantime clambered into a small car and was clutching the steering wheel expectantly. I ran the scenario through my mind of me dragging him off the ride in front of the assembled parents and teachers before it started, then quietly sighed the sigh of a parent – a heady blend of despair, fatigue and defeat – and glumly handed over my money. In the brief time it takes before the ride is stopped to let this bunch of idiots off and the next bunch on, I have time to really baste my resentment with some boiling hot bitterness. The ride bears a resemblance in scale to My First Scalextric, but with a significantly less interesting track layout. The only saving grace of this is that they are on there for – count them – five rotations, so short a journey that even a five-year-old doesn’t get bored with just going round in a circle so small that he can glimpse the back of his own head as they turn a corner. And they have thoughtfully provided a double whammy of high octane moments, when the track undulates upwards then downwards in a hillock so small I can’t be sure it is not the result of it having been placed on uneven ground. Blake dismounts and we walk away in silence. No one shall speak of it again.
Next door to said Adrenolator is the obligatory bouncy castle. Ours is a dual affair, with a standard (if small) bouncing arena on one side, and an inflatable slide thing on the other. A man with a cash belt stand between them, legs apart, with one thought and one thought only in his mind: no child shall pass from one inflatable to the other without first crossing his palm with two pound coins. TWO POUNDS. And this fair sum gets you either 5 slides on the slide, or 5 minutes on the castle. I give B the choice: we can either be ripped off whilst bouncing or ripped off whilst sliding – what’s it to be? After much deliberation, he goes for the bouncing. He hauls himself on and stands still. Stands still? What the fuck is he doing? He has five minutes. Three hundred seconds. If he doesn’t start bouncing soon, I’ll be paying 50 pence per bloody bounce.
“Bounce then!” I shout, trying not to grit my teeth.
Five short minutes later and he is off. “Can I go on the inflatable slide, mummy?”
I smile, bend down and whisper in his ear. “Absolutely not.”
By this time, I think to myself that we might as well buy some food if only to have something in exchange for our outlay of some small gastronomic value. The smell of testosterone and meat fat fills the air, which can only mean one thing: a barbecue. Well-meaning dads man the odd assortment of barbecues, tooled up with a variety of tongs, spatulas and meat forks. I wonder how adept they are at cooking as I peer over my son’s shoulder at his half-eaten burger, suspiciously pink in the centre despite its charcoal exterior. Maybe they think it’s fillet steak. How would you like your burger cooked Madam? Rare? Certainly Madam. And with the house special of a side order of E.coli? Coming right up.
We trudge off to the cake stall for some dessert. They are all out of irritation trifle, much to my… slight annoyance. The boys survey the delicacies on offer. I ponder how many of these cakes are made with the kids’ help, and therefore quite what proportion of a standard lemon drizzle cake would actually be bogeys, crumbs of Play-Doh or spittle. B chooses a chocolate cookie, seemingly made by the non-standard method of thumping them into shape with a sibling’s head, grinding Smarties into them with the delicacy only a five-year-old boy can muster, then sitting on them for half an hour once baked. I’m sure it tasted absolutely delightful.
We have gone at least ten minutes without my purse being open and large denomination coins flying out of it, so it is time to visit the hammer/bell game. This game is a stalwart activity of all carnival rip offs everywhere: get the hammer, bang the button, make the weight fly up to the bell, the bell rings, you win some plastic tat. I have no idea what this game is actually called, so let’s just call it Hand Over Your Cash, Toss Pots. Which is exactly what I do, to a boy who couldn’t have left primary school himself yet. But he is wearing a cash belt, so he is obviously superior to us commoners and is certainly more adept at making money than the rest of us. ‘Three swings,’ he instructs. Really, Ambassador, you are spoiling us with your 84p a swing.
B grips the mallet with intent. He takes a swing and misses. He takes another swing. The mallet head slams down beside the button. Bloody Geoff Capes would have struggled with this. (And if you don’t know who Geoff Capes is, you can just sod off with your millennial tendencies, flawless skin and ability to get out of a chair without letting out an involuntary ‘oofff’). Firstly, there is a two-inch mallet head trying to locate a one-inch wooden button on a twenty-inch platform. I can’t actually calculate the odds of this because it would take too long to type into Google, but I can tell you one thing: they are not good. Then you add in a slightly uncoordinated, weak-armed five-year-old who is just starting to feel the effect of a pack of Haribo, and the odds plummet further. Which is more than can be said of the weight, which moves neither up nor down, but rather stays preternaturally motionless. At best, it occasionally hiccups reluctantly in response to the flailing mallet making accidental contact with the platform. B swings wildly for the third time. Nothing. The boy relieves B of the mallet before a passer-by gets laid out flat by an ill-aimed rubber mallet travelling at high speed. For which pathetic effort, B can choose any toy he likes from the display, all bought some months ago for 10p each from plasticshitthatbreaks.co.uk.
And there we have it. The summer fair. Actually, I suddenly realise why they insist on putting the ‘y’ in fayre. Because after nearly two hours of it, you return home, a broken woman, penniless and exhausted, with only the hope of wine in a few hours to sustain you, whilst a small child points a plastic gun at your face and reminds you of the other packet of Haribo in your bag that he won that you said he could have later and it is later and he is really hungry and really wants them NOW and it’s not fair if I don’t let him eat them all and why has my gun snapped in half mummy and it’s so unfair and can we go back to get another gun and I can eat my Haribo on the way and can you buy me another gun mummy and I promise I won’t eat all the Haribo I will leave one in the packet… and you put your head in your hands and mutter one, simple word: WHY?
Really, we should just all stop faffing around with rides, and barbecues and the jarbola (which sounds far too much like a viral pandemic for my liking) and put an end to all this bloody summer fair nonsense. Instead, simply turn up to the playground on a Saturday morning, form an orderly queue, proceed to tip the contents of your purse directly into a bucket and then sod off home. This way, we can all avoid the excruciating draining of your finances over a two-hour period, the whinging about only being allowed to eat two cookies, one pack of Haribo and an ice cream the size of your face and the pain of pretending to be enjoying yourself. Fingers bloody well crossed for next year then.