The first time I got my vouchers for Bispham Gala – and it’s well over half a century ago now – I wondered ... what’s the catch?
I’d come from a fiercely sectarian district of Liverpool where parades came at a cost, and we kids could never quite work out why the Apprentice Boys were so old – yet still up for a scrap.
I couldn’t believe that here in Blackpool these slips of paper could be exchanged for, and forgive if memory lets me down, an ice-cream, bottle of pop, packet of crisps... and a ride.
I was at Norbreck Primary School and those vouchers are among the few good memories I have of my time there. I don’t even like voting there.
By the time I’d moved on to Montgomery High, the gala meant meeting up with mates and going on the bigger rides, having a snog with your boyfriend on the ghost train, or watching the considerably older girls try to cop off with the tanned lads who operated the rides and travelled with the fair.
My spirits still lift at the sight, sound and smell of the fair that comes with the gala – and I’ll see the procession tomorrow afternoon.
It’s not just a rite of passage but an enduring link with those gone before and it makes me feel I belong here.
My dad was still alive in the early years and even he regressed to childhood on the spot – heading for the dodgems while Ma led us towards the little train or the teacup ride.
Candy floss didn’t come in bags back then – and you could still win a goldfish.
If you were lucky you found money underfoot, a few coppers, silver ... or gold.
I once found a goldfish underfoot, and carried it the mile or so home, gave it the kiss of life and revived it. Goldie lived in a bucket with some water snails and the occasional frog fished out of a pond guarded by Jinny Greenteeth – a character spawned by folklore to keep kids from straying too close to the water’s edge.
I’m not sure if Jinny’s still around but Bispham Gala’s back – and Tram Sunday, too, at Fleetwood this weekend, another great event.
Last week, I saw the scarecrow festival there and snapped some courting scarecrows on a park bench – watched by Kate Middleton. Only in Fleetwood, eh?
A few days later, I learned some of the scarecrows had been vandalised, others nicked.
That’s happening in Blackpool, too.
Those responsible will come to regret their actions – once parents themselves and wondering where all the galas have gone.
Galas, club days, fairs, church fetes and processions are all part of those common threads which seamlessly bind us with the past. If you doubt that watch the wonderful black and white films of Mitchell and Kenyon which show that for all times change – we stay the same.
Generations of families turn out to do their bit or tell youngsters how they were Rose Queens and rode the float or won best fancy dress.
And local journalists will always cover a fete because it’s one of the best ways of showing a local community that we’re part of it, too – not just watching on.
Each gala season I give silent thanks to those public spirited locals who help make it happen. They overcome apathy, indifference, inertia, overwork, they fight for funds, get costumes made, put floats together, then try to steward the event within “Elf and Safety” strictures, ensure it runs well, and tidy up later.
And somehow it still manages to all come together – and delight those of us who get out to watch rather than take part.
And even in a place like Blackpool, with the best amusement park in Britain, we still need the travelling fair to come to town...
Thumbs up for hymn of praise which went viral
There were two items of good news on the educational front this week.
One was that Michael Gove had been removed from office as education minister, although it’s hardly demotion to make him chief whip and turn colleagues into the new whipping boys.
While that effectively muzzles him in debate, it also means he speaks with the “voice” of the Prime Minister. Pedagogues agogo.
And as ragged cheers rose in staffrooms across the land, one small Lancashire school, Barrowford Primary, sent spirits soaring after a letter sent out to pupils went “viral” on social media.
It was a rather lovely letter, reminding them that key stage grades only went so far in measuring their worth, and overlooked all the things that really matter.
It stopped short of schmaltz and put exam results into perspective.
And I’m glad the media didn’t get too hung up on the question of authorship of the inspirational text – for it had been borrowed from a blog and the American educationalist who had penned it originally, and who I congratulated personally, was delighted it had won a much wider following.
The best teachers know that such words matter. They oxygenate the educational system – and for much the same reasons as to why Educating Yorkshire was such a big hit ... because they show that teachers are still teachers at heart, head, soul and guts for all that Gove’s strictures have tried to bind them into servitude as unquestioning educational automatons.