I had walked, run, biked and driven through King's Park on and off for almost half a century. It was still a refreshing oasis of green snaking between the cemetery and the athletics track but I saw changes. The road was gone, grassed over, and new cycle paths criss-crossed the park like beelines. The athletics track was now powder blue and the grandstand white like an ocean liner. It was easy to follow the line of the old road as the shallow new grass had turned summer brown under relentless August heat.
As I stopped and stared into a blazing western sky, yellow bleeding into orange, and at the horizon violet and charcoal, blood began coursing in my temples and a high-pitched whine grew louder and louder until my ears popped and the world shifted. I was standing in the centre of the old road. A brand new '72 Capri cruised past, swinging around me with an admonishing squeeze of the horn. Side-stepping sharply I found the old grass. It felt lush and cool under my bare brown feet. I was fifteen.
Ahead the sunset had melted into a golden glow of liquid honey. I heard the distant tones of Marc Bolan beseeching 'Metal Guru, is it you, yeah, yeah, yeah.' I swung my head towards the music and saw caravans and trucks hunkered down like beasts in the twilight, and beyond, the twinkling lights of the funfair. I set off running but the grass stood taller, slowing me. After what seemed an age I reached the fair and slipped between two trailers into a floodlit village of rides, booths and tents. My toes were deliciously wet with evening dew.
I leaped onto the walkway surrounding the Bumper Cars as Alice Cooper screamed 'School's out for summer, school's out for ever!' The cars span and flashed and crashed, their long masts trailing blue sparks on the electrified grid above. Gypsy boys rode the backs of the cars, hanging on with one hand, flirting outrageously. Eventually the power died and riders jumped out. Already the next wave was rushing across the rink and climbing in. Dr. Hook pleaded with 'Sylvia's Mother' "… please Mrs. Avery, I just gotta talk to her, I'll only keep her a while. Please Mrs. Avery, I just wanna tell her goodbye," and while my heart ached for him, kids screamed and laughed as their cars lurched forward.
I fished a crumpled Marlboro from my pocket and bent to scrape a match on the steel floor. It ignited in a sulphurous bloom and I cupped the flame, drawing and listening to the tobacco crackle. I breathed a huge lungful of sweet virginia and leant against a pole. My eye caught the Ferris wheel arcing slowly against the darkening sky. The cars swung their precious cargo of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers, sisters and lovers, climbing up to the stars. Looking up I reeled with dizziness.
Through a maze of dazzling sideshows I stumbled and wandered. Painted faces loomed out inviting me to throw darts or hoops, "Try your luck sir?" I mumbled a response but my lips were too thick. I watched a man shy balls at coconuts perched on red and white poles. The balls hit a canvas sheet behind with a dull thwack. Slot machines flickered and jangled with racing electronic scales, coins clattered into trays and laughter reached a cacophony. Sudden piercing shrieks from the Ghost Train split the air.
An ancient crimson motorcycle on rollers roared to life and the rider twisted the throttle, the exhaust note barking and falling, barking and falling. Someone bellowed a muffled summons into a microphone. Mesmerised I followed the queue inside where we mounted creaking stairs and peered down into a well of vertical boards. A hatch opened and suddenly the motorcyclist was through and riding in circles, faster and faster until the bike began climbing the Wall of Death. Now he was thundering round just inches from our faces. I could not take my eyes off his expression, a look somewhere between terror and exhilaration scorched onto his features. His hands left the bars and he stood on the foot pegs. Round and round, throbbing, deafening and exhilarating, a drug.
The rich tang of hotdogs and onions wafted by. Girls passed with clouds of candy floss bigger than their heads. The Sweet were singing 'Little Willy' and I felt sure the day would last forever. Kids astride gilded mustangs flung their arms around the necks of their steeds while a barrel organ powered raucously into the night sky. A thousand lights illuminated the spinning carousel and the riders screeched, while the horses stared ahead, eyes bulging, nostrils flared, legs stretched at full gallop. Mott the Hoople played 'All the Young Dudes' and Ian Hunter growled, "Speed jive don't want to stay alive, when you're twenty-five." A dude, yes I felt like a dude.
The Waltzer was a shimmering blur of blood-red, emerald and gold. I pushed through the permanent throng on its steps to reach the riding deck. People were crammed in four to a car. The track rumbled as it began to roll. Fairground boys with earrings were standing on the undulating track, strolling between the cars and dipping in to collect coins from sweaty palms. The ride quickened and the cars span. The opening horns of a song blared from speakers, then softened, soothed and settled into a rhythm and Vicky Leandros was singing, "There were times, not so long ago, when I thought I was living, having fun with all the friends I knew." The Waltzer walkers sashayed precariously on the ride, dodging between the cars, spinning and spinning them until the girls screamed out of control. I hear "Come What May, I will love you forever, my heart belongs to you…" I knew these were the days of my life and I closed my eyes.
The lights and the music faded. A staccato reverberation set up in my head, repeating then drifting away to leave complete silence. Exhaustion overcame me and I lay on my back on the straw-dry grass and slept for forty years.
A cool night breeze found me staring up into the towering void, black velvet sprinkled with dust. I rose, shaking the stiffness from my limbs and began to walk home.
(Waltzer? Tilt-a-Whirl? Separated as ever by a common language!)