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A Quiet Afternoon at Carters Steam Fair – 12 May 2013


Perhaps ‘quiet’ is the wrong word to describe Pinkneys Green this afternoon. Certainly in one sense, anyway. It’s hard not to have heard the shrieking whistles, mechanical organs, and tinny drone of ’50s records, all audible from the neighbourhoods surrounding the parkland.

“Quick!”, the female attendant on the Dodgems ride bellowed over the attraction’s sound-system, “There’s just a few cars left.”

But she was lying. As I sat in my bumper car, waiting for the electric overhead grid to be switched on, my father muttered to me: “Gosh, it’s a bit like Scooby Doo and the abandoned funfair.”

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Saturday at Carters Steam Fair – 12 May 2012

ROLLING INTO TOWN: The Carters lorries parked on the side of the green. (IMG_2743)

Every May, Carters Steam Fair (which spends eight months a year on the road) comes home for a week in Maidenhead. Ever since I was born, I’ve watched in awe as a corner of Pinkneys Green becomes a funfair in the space of just five days, and then in that time again, it’s gone. But for many of my friends, it’s lost its appeal: perhaps revision for the impending exams is to blame for the lack of interest when I mentioned the fair earlier in the week, but I suspect more strongly that there’s less of a love for novelty and nostalgia in them than there is in me.

MILDLY TERRIFIED: Children enjoy one of the younger rides in front of the Verity steam engine and helter-skelter. (IMG_2665)

“It’s incredibly hard work, young man’s work. […] It’s 19th-century work in the 21st century. If it starts to rain, you can’t just go inside. You can be standing knee-deep in mud and you know it’s going to pour all weekend but you still have to open. It’s minimum wage, unless you’re a manager, and long hours. You’ll be up at eight, cleaning engines, putting water in engines, firing up engines. Or you’ll be putting prizes on stalls, getting candyfloss and the sweet stall ready. We’re usually at it until gone 11 at night. Everyone’s working. There are no passengers here.”

— Anna Carter, interview for a Telegraph Magazine feature, 12 May 2012

I attended briefly this afternoon and, as usual, the historic sound of fairground organs and the deafening noise of screaming teens on the Swingboats could be heard long before any of the trailers or vintage Scammel trucks could be seen. Immersing oneself into the heart of the site, and one could be anywhere in the country; it’s only the higher-than-usual number of patrons sitting outside at the Waggon & Horses that remind one of one’s true location.

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Carter’s Rolls Into Town – 8 May 2010

poster Maidenhead is home to Carter’s Steam Fair, a travelling fun fair powered mainly by steam. Founded in 1980 by John Carter (a Maidonian), after the purchase and restoration of an old gallopers ride, it tours around the South East, moving to a different location every week. John sadly died around 10 years ago now, but his legacy lives on in both his wife, Anna, and his sons. This year is the 30th Anniversary of the funfair!

poster_2 It has always been traditional to have a ‘road run’ through the town, and this year was no exception. I hopped on my bike and – thinking I’d missed the start – raced to the bottom of town. There was, however, no-one there, so I realised either they’d been and gone, or they hadn’t come at all. So, I cycled back up Gringer Hill and waited there. By now it was about 12:15pm (the procession was meant to start at 12), so after a bit more waiting I gave up and went home.

unusualviewfromwindscreenJust as I cycled onto the drive, Mum and Dad were about to leave to go to town, and asked me if I wanted to join them.  Then, as we pulled out of the estate, we saw them drive past us from Pinkney’s Green. I started taking some pictures, and then re-met them on foot at the bottom of town once again, where I had been half-an-hour earlier. william_doolan_and_friendThen, I saw one of my friends, William Doolan on the back of a trailer, and then his Dad, Tony, a little further behind in a truck. Tony jokingly shouted out of the window, “You should sit on the front!”. tony_doolanBut then, as I continued to photograph them, he told me they’d be stopping at Frascatti Way for one minute, and I should talk to him there.

Bikeless, I ran to the lay-by, and then the convoy pulled up. The drivers and other engine-operators stretched their legs, and then started driving on – one by one. Tony beckoned me to the van he was leaning out of, and then grabbed my camera, pulled me up, and before I really knew what was happening; he’d squeezed me into the truck!

seth_carter_driving It definitely was a squeeze: there was him, me, the driver (Seth Carter, one of the owner’s), and another guy who’d now been forced to stand up! But they were all very friendly, and I was able to be driven up Castle Hill and wave at the public who stood at the sides of the road, watching. Tony pointed out that Seth only poops his horn when he sees a pretty girl!

pulling_up_at_pinkneys As they pulled up onto the site, with less than 30 minutes to go until the start of the fair, it was frantic with cables being laid across the site and Seth being hassled about where everything should be. But it offered me a, quite literally, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and finally I got to do something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time!

Carters Steam Fair is at Pinkneys Green in Maidenhead this weekend: 12 – 11pm Saturday 8 May, 12 – 9pm Sunday 9 May 2010. More details can be found here.