When I was wee the Kelvinhall was home to the circus and carnival each Christmas. I remember the sweet smell of cotton candy, pink and fluffy as only cotton candy could be. The noise was deafening: a million kids (what do you mean there wasn’t that many?) screaming, on a sugar high, being twirled around and up and down and around again and again. Added to this was a cacophony of music from the various rides and parents shouting at their children, telling them not to go far.
I was always a big fearty. Hated fun fair rides. Still do. There were no roller coasters or Helter Skelter for me. My treats were the tamer rides: the dodgems, carousel and the bingo which my mum also loved.
I was very brave once and took a ride on the chair-o-plane. I screamed so much they had to stop the ride early to let me off, tears falling to the sawdust.
After the fun fair it was time for the circus. I didn’t enjoy the circus when I was small. I was paralysingly shy and lived in fear of any of the acts even looking at me, never mind actually speaking to me. The women were always impossible beautiful to my childish eyes. The high-wire act worried me too much – what if I actually saw one of them crash to the ground? And the clowns, with their exaggerated moves and painted-on masks were obviously child catchers, murderers or both.
But the animals….
I know now how cruel it was to have animals in a circus, but in the 1960s, before we understood that animals have rights too, the musky animal smell which pervaded the ring was the best smell in the world. My favourite was the elephant. This giant, dusty grey and wrinkled, was there, right in front of me. I longed to reach out and feel the leathery skin beneath my fingers but lacked the confidence to do so.
After the circus finished, we’d emerge from the Kelvinhall, blinking into the night and begin the journey home. And it was worth the noise, the sickly sweet smells, the acrobats and the clowns just to see my elephant each year.
Today, the Kelvinhall is a sports venue and home to Glasgow Transport Museum.