Working on a fairground is the modern equivalent of running away with the circus.
Why Would Anyone Do This?
Working on a fairground is a slow way of travelling around, but it does have several advantages for the down-and-out hitchhiker:
- It will earn you some money1.
- You will have a roof over your head.
- You will meet all sorts of interesting creatures.
- You do get to do a bit of travelling.
Why Would Anyone Not Do This?
There are many reasons why you wouldn't want to do this as well:
- The money isn't really that great.
- The roof over your head will be an old caravan of some sort or possibly the back of a lorry.
- The travelling you will do will not be over long distances, or to exotic places2.
- Many of the interesting creatures you will get to meet will only be interesting in that they are either intensely annoying or incommunicably odd, or sometimes both.
How to Get a Job at a Fair
So how do you get a job at a fair? Well, you go to the fairground and ask for one. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? That's not actually all you need to do. You need to look out for signs saying helpful things as 'Staff Wanted'. If you can't find any, don't panic - just ask around a bit, and try not to come across to the staff as being too shy, desperate, or arrogant. You should especially never come across as intelligent. With any luck, you'll be telling people to keep their arms inside the dodgem cars3 in no time.
Living on the Fair
Expect to be living in a caravan when on the fair. You will have to make do without things like a running water supply, AC electricity, and flushing toilets. You're probably wondering how you're going to get along with this arrangement, so read on...
There will usually be a truck at the fair stocked with water. This is the water you will be using for drinking, cooking, washing, and even pouring into the coolant tank on the generators. Or if you're feeling flush, you could buy the bottled stuff.
The toilets you will encounter are likely to be an unpleasant affair. They will be small wooden structures containing a large silver bucket with a wooden toilet seat on top of them. In the bucket will be, apart from the obvious, lots of disinfecting chemicals. This is done more for the smell than for wiping out germs. Every once in a while, the toilet will fill, at which point you or somebody like you will be expected to put a large black bin-liner over the bucket and carry it to a manhole. You will then remove the manhole cover and proceed to empty the bucket of all that has accumulated within it. This is in actuality a two-man job, and should not be attempted by one person alone. Few people have tried alone, and all of them ended up much less hygenic and aesthetically pleasing.
It is recommended that you avoid usage of the toilets at all times. When the toilet needs emptying, vanish for an hour or two.
Though many trailers and kip trucks will have showers, other staff on the fair might not have access to these facilities. Water would normally be available, but heating it is an entirely different matter. One of your employers may have a stove on which they can heat some water for you, but you will almost certainly not have such facilities within your caravan. You would be well advised to find a local swimming pool and use their showers as often as possible.
Fairs often have silent diesel generator sets that run most of the day, out of which a lead can be run to your trailer, giving you constant access to electricity. However, if this is not available, your best course of action is to either win a free lifetime supply of D batteries, or to get yourself a car battery. With the car battery, you can usually wire it up so it gets charged every time your caravan is towed along to wherever the next place you're going to is. This will help you power some electric devices during the week.
Aside from the possibilities of TV and radio, you will find that much of the entertainment revolves around alcohol and miscellaneous substance abuse. Neither of these are mandatory, and you should remember that there's rarely a dull moment while working on a fairground, and entertainment is naturally occurring.
You will get the chance to visit a variety of drinking establishments, some of which will even be friendly. Some areas do not like people who are not local, and some just plain do not like the fairground staff. Prepare to be labelled a 'pikey', a 'gypsy' (although fairground staff are not necessarily of the right ethnic origin to be considered gypsies) a 'carnie', and so on. If a pub isn't friendly, leave it and go elsewhere. Getting into a fight is rarely fun and will only mean that local authorities are less likely to want the fair back next season. Also, when in a hostile town, do not remove metal bars from the rides for use 'just in case', or you will find yourself having to explain why the police have confiscated some vital support bar for the dodgem cars.
One Researcher's Experience
The range of entertainment at the fair I worked on was usually based around the staff's private life. During the course of the week, somebody would have slept with somebody else's partner, and there would be lots of gossip going round. There's always some big story circulating; there's always something going on, and if there isn't - it's about to happen. Like the week-end in Streatham a few years ago when one of the rather large guard dogs was stolen and held for a hefty ransom of £550. Or the rumours that Michael Jackson had offered to buy the fair for millions of pounds.
Aside from gossip, there's also the alcohol. Because the staff would often not finish work until well after 11pm on a Saturday night, it was obligatory to head to the local off-license during your 20-minute break for the day to pick up whatever alcohol, tobacco and rolling papers you intended to use in the evening whilst sitting in somebody's van or on a park bench, bitching about other staff members. All in all, not bad fun, really. Except for the sleeping in the back of a cold, damp lorry.
Things You Will Hear
'Gaff Lad'(n) - A male member of full time staff who lives on the fair.
'Skippy'(n) - A female member of staff. So called because they are said to skip from bed to bed, that is, sleep around. This happens often, but the 'gaff lads' are equally to blame for the Jerry Springer-style relationships.
'Those darts are weighted' - the mating call of those who cannot play darts.
'The barrel's bent' or 'the sights are out' - often heard from the macho type who cannot point a cork rifle in even vaguely the right direction.
Working on a fairground can be great fun. As mentioned, there's rarely a dull moment. Even with a lack of TV, you can get soap-opera style storylines by simply listening to who's dumped who to go out with whom that particular week.
Working on a fairground is also very hard sometimes, and if you don't fit in you won't last long. Still, this is probably fine as all you're looking to do is move from A to somewhere in the vicinity of B and make a little cash at the same time, right?