Monday, 15 October 2012

Travel writing from home

I've been blog-walking recently, with some chattering about travelling as a writer (or writing as a traveller?) here, on Karen G's great blog, and here on Ros Adam's - it is especially wonderful of Ros to invite me, as she has a fit of the vapours at the mere idea of some of the things I get up to.

So, after my blog-wandering, I'm back to writing about my home town and its quirks. Travel writing from home, so to speak. Every October, on two successive Saturdays, Marlborough High Street closes and the fair moves in - known as the Mop Fairs. It goes back, or so we are told, to times when servants would stand in the street at the end of harvest with the tools of their trade (hence the 'mop') and new masters would inspect and hire them.

But this was not an organised gathering - it was not like choosing teams at school - I'll have Nicola cos she's good in goal and you can have Enid who can't run for toffee - no, it wasn't like that. Servants jostled for places, trod on each others' toes, may even have speared each other with pitchforks. The ale houses were busy, beer slopped onto the street to mix with the horse droppings. Stray dogs snuffled in corners till kicked away. There was shouting and mayhem - and fun.

Now - we have the Big Wheel, the Dodgem cars, the Waltzers. A great stall called Froggit (smack the little post with a mallet and send rubber frogs flying towards the lily pads). Hook-a-duck. All play different music - which gets louder over the course of the day until by 11.00pm it can be heard half a mile away. The ghost train, with its bits of old tights dangling down pretending to be spiders' webs. Lights flash, children scream, lads prove their manliness by not throwing up when turned upside-down. The pubs, of course, are as busy as years ago - though now it is plastic glasses that litter the street alongside the wrappers from candy floss and hot dogs. Children clutch blue bears twice their size. (My grandaughter won a vulgar blue creature with a band round its head that said 'Tony Bear.' If I could have separated it from her long enough to take its photo for you I would have done.)

I love it - It is noisy and smelly and disrupts the polite order of things.

Yes - this happens on two consecutive Saturdays. In between, the fair retreats to the common. For our ancient charter, which allows this fair to continue, stipulates that it must clear the High Street by midnight, leaving everything clean for the righteous who must put all this revelry behind them and go the church on Sunday morning.

Such a wonderful, ridiculous collision of tradition and modern celebrations! Do you have anything like this where you live?


  1. Your fair sounds like a scene from a Catherine Cookson novel. When I was young we had a fair every year for two weeks but we called it the carnival. It was on spare ground and I was not allowed to go on my own so of course I did. It was full of noise and bright lights and the smell of hots dogs and candy floss,thank you for bringing the memory back to me Jo.

  2. Anne - I think it's the contrast with the customary 'niceness' of the town that I love. The High Street (the widest in England, I think) has lovely buildings, and we have tourists in coaches who take photos of its general quaintness. And then this happens - it's loud and vulgar, and the street is full of young people. Just wonderful!

  3. We had a fair on some waste land near us in Leicester when I was a kid. Dad used to take me - I'm thinking back to when I was about 5 or 6 here. The fair still comes to Leicester but it's larger and, just like the shops down High Street, it's identical to every other fair in every other town.

  4. I lived in Abingdon from 1965 - 1972 and there was a big hiring fair known as the Ock Fair (after the main street, Ock Street, itself after the River Ock). The main street still closes for this every October - as with M'boro it is now a funfair - and then a week later there is the Runaway Fair in the market place, a much smaller affair held so that any servant unhappy with their new employer got a second chance of employment for the coming year. Elinor

  5. Isn't it lovely - all these memories of fairs. It's wonderful that some are still going, so our children and grandchildren will have stories to tell about them.

  6. A message from someone called Hilary, which appeared by my email but blogspot seems to have eat it:

    Hilary Melton-Butcher has left a new comment on your post "Travel writing from home":

    Hi Jo .. come over via Ros' blog and seen your Mop Fair post - I'd never heard of them ... another strand to life in the 1300s ... Fascinating and your travels must be amazing ... I'll be back anon - cheers for now Hilary

    Thank you, Hilary - welcome aboard!

  7. Although my mum has lived in Hungerford for about 30 years (and was in Marlborough before that) I have NEVER BEEN TO THE MOP FAIR. A bit like the way that I had never been to the tower of London when some US visitors finally dragged me there...

    1. Next year, Jenny - come and see Marlborough when it's not being polite!