The QT

Friday 19 July 2024

The Hoppings revisited in pictures

After a gap of 50 years, artist and photographer Peter Dixon returned to the Hoppings — and a landscape bereft of pies and coconuts
The Hoppings is one of Europe’s largest travelling funfairs and has changed a bit over the years

Last week’s edition of The QT platformed my Hoppings photos from half a century ago. This year I hauled myself back.

We still have the famous Waltzer or three but they’re now pumped up with rap music and dry ice. The other rides now include Slingshots, Space Rockets, Bungee Balls and any number of attempts to defy gravity at 100mph and above. 

My group included a pair of 12-year-olds who viewed every ride with a level of ennui only demonstrated by regular visitors to the International Space Station. 

Nevertheless they insisted on trying every one until their spending money dwindled, leaving only enough for a slushie, a jumbo hot dog and 14 attempts to win an iPhone by throwing a plastic ring over the fabulous prize… “only if it lands totally flat my darling”.

Love a duck

Game stalls aplenty: hook-a -duck, sharpshooting, bows and arrows still survive and yet the prizes become more odd — this year was all about koala bears, octopi, furry snakes, alligators and, strangely prosaic, pigs. Not a goldfish or coconut to be seen, and I went round twice just to check.

Foot-long chips. But no pies…

The big difference is the loss of the traditional sideshow — no more Hall of Mirrors, Wall of Death, Rib Tickler or World’s Tallest / Shortest / Fattest / Four-legged / Two-headed / Strangest Person Who Ever Lived. They’ve probably all got steady jobs at Amazon nowadays.

You can still get a fast ride on a head-spinning Waltzer, only with the addition of rap music and dry ice

They say a crowd marches on its belly and calorific indulgence is more and more in evidence. Fifty years ago it was pie, peas and chips, hot dogs or Westlers Burgers with ketchup, onions and mustard. Today its Asian noodles, pizza, foot-long fries, cheesy chips, Greek kebabs and about 20 slushie outlets. No pies, sorry, ladies and gentlemen.

Waiting to see what the future holds. Or not…

The last remaining sign of the old days are the fortune tellers. From an old Romany family, the daughter of Gypsy Whatshername who ‘amazed’ and ‘astounded’ the crowned heads of Europe. 

They used to have framed, autographed photos of celebs on their walls — Frankie Vaughn, Bernie Winters and Schnorbitz, Jimmy Clitheroe or Mrs Mills. Sadly no longer — the appeal of having your fortune told going totally over the heads of the likes of Miley Cyrus, Adele, Jordan or Jeremy Clarkson.

Gravy and chips. The demise of the pies

And yet, sad though I am for the dilution of the tacky attractions of yesteryear, clutching my sticky bag of candy floss as the shutters are put up and the lights turned off, I suspect I may be coaxed back in another 50 years to experience what is, after all, Newcastle’s biggest traditional festival.

I just hope someone will be with me to work the camera.

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