Illustration: Rob White
I hereby announce the retirement of the word ‘chav’ from CINB. In an effort to be a better person - don’t laugh - I am going to try to stop saying it, and to certainly stop writing it down. It may be a lazy word and borderline racist, but that won’t stop me from missing it terribly; I defy anyone to find a better accompaniment to the word ‘bastard’.
‘Chav’ does need to go out with a bang, however, and what better subject to give it a proper send-off with than an account of my first visit to Goose Fair? LeftLion hadbeen bugging me to do a Goose Fair piece for years, but I could never bring myself to go. Goose Fair? Are you nuts? That’s the belly of the beast, man! Chav HQ. Trackie Central, Hoodie Ground Zero.
Here’s the thing; in my home town, we have a little thing called the Calgary Stampede. Maybe you’ve heard of it? The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth, dahling. We know our fairgrounds, yeah? And ours are almost completely chav-free. OK, so the redneck count is a tad high, but what are you gonna do? It’s a giant rodeo. In comparison to that, Goose Fair was bound to be awful. Hordes of little chavlettes, tweaking their tits off on mini-doughnuts and smacking the crap out of each other with plastic LED swords. Fat mom-chavs using their eighteen-kid prams as battering rams. Young hoodies knifing each other over 50p candy apples.
Bottom line: Goose Fair was going to make me hate fairgrounds, and I didn’t want that to happen. I love the Calgary Stampede; I didn’t want anything to tarnish the warm memories of scoffing watered-down beer and puking through the metal cage of the Sizzler. But it was time. I’d managed to wiggle my way out of it for four years, and I could wiggle no longer. I was to come face-to-face with my biggest Nottingham nightmare whether I liked it or not.
Sure enough, I encountered my first chav family as soon as I stepped foot off the bus. There were about twenty of them, pushing each other and dropping c-bombs like it was going out of style. Six teeth between the lot of them. After a few minutes of playing Guess The Dad, I leaned across to my longsuffering CINB excursion mate, Owen, and said;
‘Christ, here we go.’ In fact, that should be Goose Fair’s slogan. Goose Fair: Christ, Here We Go.
The first thing to greet us at the gate was the freakshow. Dead animals with two heads,
a half crow-half rabbit and, naturally, Mr Big Mouth from Hull. I scoffed at Owen. ‘Oh yeah, we used have these back home. Like in 1926. HA. HA. HA.’ each ‘ha’ followed by a sarcastic clap. For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, the freak trailer is basically a line of things in glass boxes so blanketed in dust as to render them unrecognisable. And it stinks. Cost to view the freakshow: £1.50. Admission to Nottingham Contemporary: £0. This is the world in which we live. One could also point out that the real freakshow was the Chavpocalypse happening in the men’s toilets, but that would be mean.
We walked a bit further and saw an enormous sign advertising ‘COCKS ON STICKS’. “HA. HA. HA. Bra-vo!” I scoffed again (more sarcastic clapping). “You see that, Owen? Do you see that? What else would a chav buy? A candy rooster on a stick so they can say ‘Suck my cock’ and not get in trouble. So typical. So utterly predictable”. But that’s where the food predictability ended. Mushy peas with mint sauce? On its own? The noodle bar seemed about as rational at a fairground as a Megadeth poster at Anne Frank’s house, but even bowls of Yaki Udon made more sense than the whole coconuts for sale. I’m sorry, Nottingham, but there only three states of fairground food: 1) deep fried 2) candied or 3) flossed. You can’t argue with that, it’s science. A couple of goes on the Crazy Shake and it will be moving in the reverse direction anyway. If you can’t throw a wooden ball at it, a coconut has no business at a fairground. Health Schmelth - it’s the one day of the year it’s OK to be bulimic, you may as well go for it. Spend the other 364 days of the year worrying about your BMI.
(And I’m sorry to go on, but how in God’s name are you supposed to eat a coconut, anyway? I picked one up thinking it must be some sort of trick - like maybe it was a chocolate coconut filled with nougat dipped in batter. Nope, it was real. A real, whole coconut. It wasn’t even cracked - you were somehow expected to open it yourself. The coconut proprietor and I stared at each other for a few awkward moments before I put it back on the pile and walked on without a word.)
I will give Goose Fair one thing: health and safety is happily lacking. The Calgary Stampede has always prided itself on being lawless, unhinged and non-PC. Cowboy hats, animal abuse, Wrangler ball-huggers... this is the Wild West we’re talking about! Two things you will not see at the Calgary Stampede fairground, however, are children barely old enough to walk brandishing full-sized bow and arrows, and grown men throwing baseballs at beer bottles. The guy manning the beer bottle smash game looked positively bored as shards of broken glass rained down on him. I’ve never seen a man face a sliced jugular so calmly; he should be in MI6. He looked entirely capable of yawning his way through a waterboarding session.
Not only that, but once you made your way into Goose Fair proper, you could see that it had some serious rides. Stargate, The Turbo Booster, the inverted bungee jump...and the fact that the bungee looked like it could snap at any minute only added to the appeal. And I know that moaning about the prices of rides at Goose Fair is the national pastime of Nottingham, but believe it or not, they’re actually cheap. The inverted bungee at the Calgary Stampede costs fifty dollars to ride. Fifty bucks!
Goose Fair wasn’t the chav hellhole I expected. Don’t get me wrong, they were there in numbers, but there were also other people there. Non-chavs. Kids dressed head-to-toe in Baby Gap with balloons and some sort of (hopefully) food-based substance on their faces, their mothers sipping cappuccinos. And they seemed to be having fun. ‘What the hell is this?’ I asked Owen. ‘What do you mean?’ he replied. ‘This!’ I said, pointing. “Middle class people! What the hell are they doing here?’
But it wasn’t just the middle class people and the chavs; everyone was there. St Ann’s thugs, West Bridgford preps, Games Workshop dorks, townie drunks, Market Square goths. What I assumed would be a big outdoor borstal was actually nothing short of the perfect cross-section of the Nottingham populace, all getting along with each other. By ‘getting along’ I mean ‘giving each other as wide a berth as possible while being wedged into a field’, but still.
All I need to do now is work out the ‘Goose’ element. I imagine, like everything else in this country, it’s some sort of horrifying myth that has to do with the Plague; some evil, diseased goose waddled from house to house infecting the town’s residents by crapping into their sleeping mouths, and the only way to appease it was to have a fair in its honour. Who knows? Whatever it is, it seems to unite the residents of Nottingham in a way nothing else in this town does, and that can only be a good thing. So this year, don’t ignore it - embrace it. Just don’t embrace anyone while you’re there - they’re probably covered in sticky chunks of candied cock, broken glass and coconut milk.