Children ride the Mega Slide despite the risk of lightening strikes.
It was an unrelentingly grim day with ominous dark grey clouds hanging low over the event. Sporadic showers sent people running for shelter every fifteen minutes or so. Stallholders hastily covered items, food vendors battened down the hatches and ride operators made quick calculations on the statistical threat of lightening strikes. In short this was a typical British summertime event.
Do you see what they did there?
I was out shooting at Lambeth Country Fair for Lost in London magazine. It’s a strange beast, part quaint country fair with sheep shearing shows, pigs assault courses and flower shows, part mini festival with live music across a few stages and part fun fair. My assigned task was to shoot the winners in the best vegetable disciplines alongside their entries in a big tent at the fringes of the fair. I quickly met the winners and photographed their big onions and well formed radishes, asked them some particularly ill informed questions about growing vegetables, “So you grow these in earth do you? And these ones? Ah, earth too! Fascinating”. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested, I genuinely was, it’s just that we were in the midst of a biblical downpour and I was trapped by it in the vegetable tent. When I’m trapped like this without an option to make excuses I get gripped by a horrible compulsion to keep making long after all interesting observations have been exhausted. I think it could be my background in radio, if I hear an empty space then I instinctively rush to fill it. So I kept asking increasingly inane questions until my small talk gear seized up making a sound like a rusty bike wheel braking and my interviewees managed to slink off leaving me slack jawed but relieved next to a table of vegetable sculptures of famous people. Finally a shaft of light briefly cut into the marquee and I took that as a sign to make my escape into the wider world of Brockwell Park.
The stunning London 2012 tent complete with torchbearer.
I think I’d been to the fair a couple of years earlier but almost certainly by mistake. My one memory was that the fairground could proudly boast having some of the weirdest airbrush art I’d ever seen, so I quickly hurried in that direction to get some photos before being drenched again.
A quick aside here….I was wearing boat shoes. I’m not sure what merits them being “boat” shoes because they seemed incredibly unable to deal with water in any capacity. Not only were my feet already wet they offered little to no purchase on the ground beneath my feet which meant I had to adopt a ridiculous looking shuffle just to keep myself from slipping over. Add to this my desire not to get further drenched and the overall effect was that I moved in the style of a Geisha on speed down the hill towards the rides. The sad price of hipster/Dad footwear.
The “Mystery Hotel” – not an actual hotel.
After negotiating the hill without falling on my ass I found the “Mystery Hotel”. I’d seen it last time and was glad it was still here as it has some absolute gems of airbrush art sprayed upon it. The theme for the whole ride is “Terror” I suppose rather than mystery. Mystery is too vague a concept to offer on a ride. To signify that this is essentially a haunted house, the owners have commissioned an artist to spray on notable figures from the movies onto the ride. Allow me to walk you through a few of them…
It’s a cut price Jack Nicholson! Jack Nichols if you will. Fits nicely with the “Hotel” motif though.
Hellraiser! Now he’s a scary bastard if ever there was one. I’ve got to say though that he appears quite nonplussed here, vaguely cheesed off and little sorry for himself in fact. Right who’s next in our cavalcade of scary freaks it’s….
…erm….Colin Farrell in Phonebooth!?! Okay, so that has what censors would now call “scenes of mild peril” but it’s not exactly horror is it? Let’s move on and see if this begins to make more sense.
What the hell is happening here? We’ve suddenly gone to an alternate Middle Earth where Frodo and Sam have become shifty, slightly bruised looking skag heads and Gollum looks more like Mark E. Smith than ever. Take special note of Frodo’s evil eye.
This is ridiculous now. They’ve abandoned the horror theme altogether and decided to feature an oddly porcine looking Johnny Knoxville next to Anna Farris from the Scary Movie, errrr, movies.
At this point the heavens opened again and I was forced to flee, in that same Geisha style shuffle but this time uphill. I looked for an empty tent, spotted one that looked very much like one I’d spent a few lost hours in at Glastonbury once, dove in and immediately found myself ushered into a seat and taking part in a debate between police and residents on the merits of stop and search policy in Lambeth. It wasn’t what I was hoping for but it was dry and they pointed me towards a seat which I gladly accepted. It went like this. Residents don’t like being stopped and searched because the police are often rude and use racial profiling. The police don’t like to use stop and search but deem it a necessary evil, are trained to be pleasant (though admit it doesn’t always work out that way). The final result after an hour of back and forth was a no-score draw and I went back out into the slippery wastes.
Non-stop fun on The Twister
I was amazed to see that some people were already sitting on rides ready to go despite the fact that it was still raining. They sat collars drawn up against the chill breeze, probably in little puddles slowly soaking up through their trousers, stoic, grimly determined to have a good time no matter what the elements could throw at them. It was an impressive, stirring site to see their fortitude far outstrip mine. I find it hard to put my faith in fair machinery at the best of times (let alone in the rain), a feeling that has intensified as I’ve grown older. There are too many unexplained clanks and groans on each ride to ever make me comfortable with me putting my life in the hands of the man at the controls who almost invariably has an unusually shaped head and a desire to use the P.A system as his own personal radio station. I used to go to fair on the local common as a teenager where one ride operator used to MC over the likes of D:Ream, Haddaway and Snap in his own unique style broadcasting such lines as “Itcameleyeitcameleyeitcameleye!” later translated as “It come alive” (?) and “Suhhh-krrrrream if you wannago Francois” which meant “If you’d like to go faster then please scream to indicate that fact”
This last ride had to be my favourite. “Midnight Express” despite it’s name has nothing to do with attempting to smuggle hash out of Turkey and subsequently being imprisoned (as far as I know no theme park has managed to pull that one off as a viable family ride). “Midnight Express” and it’s artwork seemingly has nothing to do with anything. It is one batshit collection of random pieces of popular iconography mixed in with some arbitrary statements and words plucked from the ether with neither rhyme nor reason. “Rap”, “Freeway” , “Top Dancing”, “Extreme Sensation USA”, “Rock Mantique” and the enigmatic “Starter: Look for the star” are all essentially meaningless but when littered amongst logos for Ghostbusters II and Harley Davidson produce quite a dizzying effect before even stepping on the ride. The sensory overload is such that you could almost miss Arnold Schwarzenegger flying through a burning hoop next to giant can of coke (or is it a phone?) and towards a ninja turtle.
At this point it began to rain again. I weighed up my options. Stand here getting wetter, breathing in diesel fumes and candy floss, or go home and satisfy my strange compulsion to watch The Shining, Hellraiser, Lord of the Rings, Phonebooth, Jackass and anything with Arnie in it.
I went home.