A good holiday Fun Fair should have everything thatâ€™s missing from ordinary life: excitement, crowds, noise, colour, joy rides, trials of strength, candies, booze, music, entertainers, stuff to buy, nostalgia, escape, romance.
Besides all that, the Great Dorset Steam Fair in southern England has at its heart a gathering of enthusiasts for working vintage machinery. Pride of place goes to the great coal-fired steam engines that once powered agricultural and civil engineering processes. When not parading or demonstrating working methods, these giants line up at the centre of the showground to create a warm, chugging, wheezing, pulsing heart and a sulphurous fog.
From the top of the helter-skelter or a big Ferris wheel one can look down at them, or into the scaffolding of the roller coasters. For the Fairground show-people are here too, with the rides that they transport from Fair to Fair all over Britain. Some rides are vintage favourites; others are new, technical and terrifying. This Fair claims to be the largest of its kind in the world, taking over 600 acres of land that for the rest of the year grows food crops. Thereâ€™s something here for everyone, whether itâ€™s a first taste of independence, a laugh, a mild thrill, huge adrenalin surge, a chance to show off, a photo-opportunity, searching for bargains on a junk stall, or just watching others demonstrate big machinery or draught horses.
The relentless din of fairground organs, announcements, shouting, screaming, hooting, puffing, grinding and thumping makes your head spin. So in time folk retire to quieter spaces between tents or on the edge of the Fair for a sit-down rest, though the enthusiasts find it hard to leave their beloved machines. At dusk, the entertainments come to life. At Ron Taylorâ€™s theatrical boxing and wrestling booth, a husky employee touts for custom, provoking members of the crowd to step up and test their fighting skills in the ring. The same formula year after year. Then one year this old familiar venue was closed and up for sale, a reminder that the showmanâ€™s livelihood too is subject to change. Because of COVID, the Great Dorset Steam Fair has now not taken place for 2 years. But the enthusiasts are only sleeping.
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