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Friday, 19 August 2011

Frankie and Rhona at the Fair

It was Spring or Summer 1967, I think. I would have been 9 years old and was visiting a travelling funfair with a friend in my home town of Taunton in England. There were two attractions that have pretty much eclipsed any other memories* I may have had of the fair. The first depicted Frankenstein's monster. To anyone observing from outside, every 5 minutes or so, there was a roar from within the tent, followed by the sight and sound of screaming kids as they ran out as fast as they could. My friend and I paid our money and went in, determined to resist the urge to run. The 'monster' was sitting in an electric chair (was this scene in any of the Frankenstein films, I wonder?) staring impassively ahead. Then after some time, when the tent had filled up and we had relaxed a little, he suddenly stood up, possibly to the accompaniment of flashing lights and a buzzing electric sound, and emitted a loud roar as he advanced toward the audience. He must have stopped after a few paces, but we didn't stay to find out as we turned and fled. What fun!

As with the first attraction, we also knew what to expect from the second, through word of mouth. This was in spite of the painted 'pulp' style artwork outside. It showed 'Rhona the Rat Girl', in a bathing costume, in a dungeon setting, IIRC, being terrorized by giant rats. She had her head turned away from them as far as possible while just being able to watch them in fearful fascination from the corner of her eyes. What was the story, I wonder? Was this picture lifted from some comic or pulp magazine? Inside, the reality was somewhat different. 'Rhona' was seated inside a pen and with her inside another cage were a few very tame-looking rats. She had a bamboo cane in her hand and tapped the cage lightly now and again (the artwork had her holding a whip, for some reason). She clearly wasn't in any danger or state of fear, but just looked bored. However, the big difference was in what she was wearing, or rather wasn't wearing. She was 'topless', to use that rather contradictory term. This being (hippy-ish) 1967, or possibly to meet legal requirements, or perhaps just to (lightly) preserve her modesty, her boobs had been painted with concentric circles. Other than that, she had on a large pair of slightly moth-eaten regulation navy knickers and possibly a pair of boots. We walked around her pen towards the exit, not too quickly, trying not to stare too much. This was a novel experience and I think we got our money's worth even if we were there for only a couple of minutes!

(* not quite 'eclipsed': at one of the stalls, I won a terrific skull ring with eyes made from coloured plastic or glass. For some reason, my father did not share my good taste and I was sadly forced to throw it away.)