Crepe paper and candyfloss just rolling back the years

Carnival, 1970s style: Julie on her winning ‘Peace’ float
Carnival, 1970s style: Julie on her winning ‘Peace’ float
14 August 2017 2:04PM

It's carnival season. The time of year for ice creams, bouncy castles and queens in sparkly tiaras.

I went to Whitehaven Carnival, my first in a while, on Saturday and suddenly realised you never really tire of a parade.

Toddlers in tutus, a man on stilts riding a bike, Oompa Loompas and boys running around with silly string.

Attending with my little god-daughter (at her first carnival) I had forgotten just how exciting the sights and smells can be. On a hot’s summer’s day it was hard to beat the smell of frying onions and candyfloss, with your shoulders burning as you try to hook a duck and win a giant teddy which you don’t really want to win as you’ve no room.

For someone who lives her life dressed in black and rarely venturing into direct sunlight, I am impossibly drawn to the sparkly, glitz and colourful glamour of a carnival float.

Back in the day I was a float veteran. As part of a Brownie pack whose mothers would spend weeks making paper-tissue flowers to transform a mucky coal lorry, it was all taken very seriously.

Anyone who worked on those floats back in the 1970s can recall just how much effort went into producing an astonishing work of art from what was essentially a large industrial vehicle.

I was on one award-winning float called ‘Peace’ which saw all the little Brownies dressed in white dresses sitting on a float which included live doves in cages!

Another theme saw a giant rainbow constructed on a float, while another lorry was decorated to look like a village in the Netherlands, complete with a windmill entitled “Having a Gouda Time”. Geddit?

Carnivals are special in this country as we have a window of just several weeks to pull together some summer festivities.

As I rediscovered on Saturday, there is nothing more British than standing on the street, teeth chattering, goosebumps revealed, eating an ice cream saying to your nearest and dearest: “Isn’t this fun?”

It also set me thinking about other cheap, summer delights, which included blow-up swimming pools, squeezy bottle water fights, home-made frozen Vimto lollies and cheese crisps.

The shape of washing-up liquid bottles has evolved over the years, but the delicious thrill of taking someone by surprise has never altered.

When we have a family party at my mam’s during the summer and let the youngsters loose with water pistols, my brother, who is in his 40s, is still my number one target. The old-school competitive spirit rises in me and there is much planning about how to annoy him the most with the shots.

Of course, squeezy bottles are all well and good, but the very best time was when your dad came home from work in his overalls, turned on the garden hose and drenched everyone in his path for a good half an hour.

“Right,’’ your dad would say. “That’s me done.” And he would switch off the hose, grab his paper and retreat to the house where we wouldn’t dare disturb him.

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