Married to the job - a tale of two stalls;Discovery series;Discover fairs

3rd September 1999 at 01:00
Love of the fairground lifestyle runs in the family, sometimes for generations

You don't need to spend anything. The sights, the sounds, the smells, they're all free. You can have a great time for absolutely nothing!" So says John Edwards of the travelling fair. Not that he would thank you for not putting your hand in your pocket. As the owner of two rides and an amusement arcade, John has to earn as much as possible during the summer months to take him through the winter when work is scarce.

Money, though, seems secondary to someone who loves the life of travelling showman as he does. John is steeped in the fairground tradition: his great-great-grandfather was the first man in the country to stage a Punch and Judy show (on Yarmouth Beach).

John and his wife Valerie can imagine no better life than theirs. The community spirit among show people is terrific, he says, fellow showmen are always friendly and helpful. And, he says, they're some of the most talented people anywhere. Few have formal qualifications but most can turn their hand to almost anything - painting, carpentry, engineering, electrics - simply because they have to. He points to his young son unscrewing a bolt on a trailer: "That's the way they learn, by doing it."

Ramona Codona has always worked in fairgrounds - aged seven, she would stand on a box to take money at a hoop-la stall. She went to dozens of schools, sometimes only staying a week. Life at school was tolerable as a result of her outstanding gymnastic ability, which won her many admirers.

Like John and Valerie, her family has been in the business for generations, as most family members married other fairground people. She too loves the mutual aid ethic of the fairground community: "The social life is fantastic. Your neighbours can never do enough for you," she says.

Things are better than when she was growing up in the Fifties: no more primitive washing facilities and the children can keep up with their education thanks to the Internet. "But I'd still like a change," says Ramona. Money is the main reason: Ramona's trampoline and her children's motorbike rides don't earn what they used to. She blames the National Lottery and scratchcards, but recognises the advantage that theme parks have over fairs in levying a cover charge rather than one for each activity.

There's another thing, though. Ramona is tired of the mistrust with which people view showmen. "They class all of us as 'gyppos' or 'hawkers'," she says. "It shows most in the games. People don't believe you can win. Can you credit it? It pays you to give prizes, otherwise people just wouldn't come."

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