This evening I went to the annual St Giles Fair in Oxford. It is a bizarre experience that I can thoroughly recommend to anyone who has lived in Oxford. For those who are new to the city, it does have all the merits of a slightly dreary small funfair. For those familiar with Oxford, the weird juxtaposition of funfair tat and the ancient stone, film-set normality is delicious. Perhaps it was this which broke me out of my embittered old git shell and encouraged me to have a go on some of the rides.
I thought that the waltzer might be like a nautical training machine—the end of your go was signified by a foghorn, made doubly authentic because, by the end of a spin-cycle, the ride was choked with thick, artificial smoke; it undulated, like waves on a choppy sea; and it is named after a slightly camp dance, a bit like sailors, who are also slightly camp. ‘It’s smooth, it’s fast, you can’t walk…’ boasted a sign I couldn’t read the end of because it curved away from me. I speculated that it might read ‘after going on this ride’. I was nearly right. Though spinning the same damn way for five minutes did leave me rather disorientated, the main discomfort came because it felt like my face was being ripped off by the centrifugal force. The sign actually said ‘past’.
My centrifuging wasn’t over, however, as we proceeded to a ride which was, to continue the laundry analogies, like a tumble dryer with its barrel pointing vertically upwards. It span us around at high speed, before retracting the floor and leaving us stuck to the walls by the friction of our clothes. It was probably my favourite ride: we decided, by the thoroughly unscientific method of a discussion, that we’d pulled three or four g; it was a genuine physics experience. This is what it would have been like to lie down on the surface of a planet with enormous gravity. Breathing was made quite difficult as my rucksack, which I’d foolishly put on in reverse, conspired with my ribcage to crush my lungs to their death, and therefore mine.
We also had a go on the dodgems and a ghost train so appallingly un-terrifying I cannot describe. There wasn’t even a bloke in a skeleton costume to put me in fear of losing my wallet. And the rotating, fluorescent-paint-and-UV tunnel wasn’t rotating. Bah.
One of my friends went up to one of the traders and asked for some nougat. ‘Bar of nugget, love?’ the trader cheerily confirmed with her. I’m glad I hadn’t been buying, or I would have been unable to continue the transaction due to the giggles. I thought that this was such a sit-com cliché of a mispronunciation that no-one actually did it. It shouldn’t matter how common you are, you might not be able to pronounce hyperbole or crochet correctly, but you’d definitely know it was noo-gaa…wouldn’t you? But this verbal misdeed was only the beginning of a catalogue of abused foreign language, mostly written. ‘Capuchino’, anyone? (I assume that’s a hat made from cotton usually used for trousers.) And, at one of the classier-looking joints, you could buy ‘crepés’, as though someone knew that there was an accent in it somewhere, but wasn’t too hot on the specifics. If only there were some kind of resource where one could find these things out.
My favourite sign, however, was correctly spelt, and in English. It proudly declared: ‘All prizes can be won!’ I suppose that’s why they’re called prizes.