It was 1961 when I first discovered my fear of polar bears.
I wasn’t travelling in the footpaths of Oates, Scott or Amundsen – attempting to reach the North Pole before tea-time – I was four years old and I was in Battersea. At this early age I’d still not fully received all my cross-tundra training and was shocked to have been accosted by a polar bear in SW11 – well within the Arctic Circle.
At five, and you’ve not yet played the back end of a pantomime horse attempting to kick-start your thespian career, you can’t comprehend that’s there’s an actual human inside the bearskin.
As well as this new-found fear, it also put me off having taxidermy as a hobby.
The ‘polar bear’ was one of many attractions at the Battersea Fun Fair. Despite the journey taking only ten-minutes from Balham Station, we only went a few times – mainly because of my recently-acquired fear of Arctic fauna; the Water Chute gave me aquaphobia; the Helter Skelter, vertigo and the Ghost Train enabled me to be a regular, if unwilling visitor at the Balham Sketchley’s.
The only place I enjoyed was the small booth (claustrophobia never a problem) in which you could produce a record onto a floppy piece of plastic. My dad and I whistled the theme tune to Supercar.
I’d have been Mike Mercury, only I had a fear of flying. Quite coincidental given, to this day, I still look like Joe 90.
The last time I got a postcard the price of the stamp was 3d.
No one sends them anymore – not even the ones featuring very small men with wives with enormous, Pamela Anderson-like chests, looking at marrows or any odd-shaped vegetable mentioning its size etc.
As a kid, during the summer, I had two great aunts who, upon their arrival in Ilfracombe (might have been Pluto for all I knew, it sounded so far away from Balham), would write to me using every conceivable space on the card. There would always be a picture of the beach – not a sniff of a giant marrow 😊
It was lovely to receive, but the quid pro quo was that you had to send them back and would be forced by elder relatives – seemingly for the entire duration of the holiday – to write them.
“Wish you were here” being the obvious inclusion: but, however large you wrote it, it wasn’t covering the entire message area. So I would lie and write about the remains of a pterodactyl I’d found on Dungeness beach and wouldn’t be able to write a second card due to having been abducted by Ellen Terry (we were forced to visit her house in Kent one year). So, when I returned, having been released by the leading 19th theatre actress, some aging relatives were quite surprised.
And the weather; you’d be in the same country and the weather probably similar, but you were, because you were British, obliged to mention it. You said it was hot, but then you’d never travelled to the Sahara Desert, the Grand Canyon or Mars.
I’d send more postcards, except they cost more than 3d to post and my marrows aren’t at their best in this cold weather. �
It’s that time of year when normally we’d be attending our local village/school/church/diabolist commune fairs.
Sadly, none of us, this year, will be winning anything you wouldn’t dream of buying on a Tom-bola stall.
Discarded bottles, costing no more than 67p, from day trips to Calais in the late ‘80s, will still be remaining in the loft for another year.
I’m reminded of the only success at my Balham school fair.
Having previously won goldfish with shorter lifespans than the average housefly, one year I won a goldfish – it lived for eighteen years.
If it hadn’t had such a dreadful memory it would have been old enough to drive – remembering stopping distances would have proved a problem as it was constantly smashing into the side of its bowl.
During these eighteen years I tried to make its life as pleasant as possible: added a plastic diver for company; green foliage modelled on Tooting Bec Common (I assume it had been caught in one of the ponds, so this was a glimpse of “home”) and a signed copy of Moby Dick.
When it died, I wanted to give it a decent burial. They weren’t too keen at the South London Crematorium (my suggestion of playing “For those in peril on the sea” as the curtain closed, being the nail in the coffin) so I packed him into his own coffin – a tin of daphnia – and threw him in the Wandle.
So, next time you’re watching Tooting & Mitcham, and you hear splashing from the nearby river, please remember Flipper.