“Try to sing a song that goes 'ding, ding-a-dong'...”

Now let's see if I can get through this page in one piece without a) being rushed to Preston Hospital in an old cream Bedford ambulance, and b) any mention of Dire Straits.

But what a feast for our senses, right there on our doorstep from April to October every year, the Spanish City offered an eternal spring of fizzy fun and loud music, tempered only by the odd embarrassing ride home in a police car.

Now go back if you can, in your mind’s nose, to the sugary waft of the candyfloss, Spanish Gold 'tobacco', Venetian ice cream dipped in sherbet or chocolate powder — then, just to put you off your Toast Toppers come hometime, were the relentless enticements of sizzling sausage fats, bubbling onions, pink-in-the-middle hamburgers, fish caked with lumps of soggy uncooked batter, and chips sprinkled with widdly vinegar from a greasy bottle you wouldn't buy a used car from. Meanwhile, somewhere in a back lane, pigeons pecked away furiously at pools of vomit and the peelings from spuds.

“In fact it was a little bit frightening...”

THE GHOST TRAIN

Out of season, or whenever else "The Spanner" was closed, the cars were pushed inside when not in use, so, after fumbling for the front of the line, some kids would jump on and some would push. The invisible winding track of sudden hairpin bends and unseen ghoulies and dangly bits was hairy enough as it was in the dark, till the car gathered speed and was suddenly derailed. "But", as Bobby Goldsboro sang, "what the heck", just feel your way back through the blackness and masks of evil mirth to jump on the car behind. Amazingly no-one had a foot sliced off.

The police came one night but, hearing the familiar pale blue Hillman Imp screeching towards us, we crept to the exit and watched through the gap as they piled through the other doors with their torches, so off we scarpered into the library park to escape the ensuing rozzerly wrath.



Toffee Apples

Disgusting things at the best of times (I can almost feel the enamel coming off my teeth at the very thought), not only did they have nobbly bits and taste like shit but were engineered to ensure that, when you took your first (and only as it turned out) bite, the apple would come free of its stick and fall on the deck, only to be stamped on, or kicked under one of the rides, by some older kid in monkey boots. Guaranteed.
 
THE DEMON'S DEN

See Ghost Train for similar examples of misconduct. Whoever painted the outside of this place was certainly keen to share whatever bad acid trips he'd suffered. "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!" we were warned. Lots of little round windows through which peered horrible devil masks. Grown men would run out screaming. Why were so-called fun fairs so malevolent, or was it a 'Scooby Doo' thing?

"The Den" was given a slap of paint I think sometime in the late '80s, but the new demons on show (probably not drug-induced this time round) were about as sinister as a Monkseaton Parish coffee morning.

THE HOUSE OF FUN

Inside was fine: wiggly "Golliwog's cakewalks" (not very PC these days I know), wobbly distorted mirrors, big revolving barrel thing inside which you ran around nuts like in a mouse-wheel; anything to make the strawberry Cresta frothing in your tummy come straight back up and out through your nostrils.

But outside, someone was certainly trying to put the willies up the kids with two of the most menacing life-sized puppets, dancing in glass cases — a horrible mincing clown (which looked a bit like Martin Clunes) and a ghastly policeman with bushy, ginger facial hair and swinging a large truncheon. 30 years later and supposedly less immature, I still wake up screaming in the night covered in all sorts.

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

Within was another giant mouse-wheel but you could grab the outside edge of this one and it would lift you up and pull not only you around the circumference but your arms from their sockets; or if you were taller you could stand inside limbs-outstretched like that drawing by the Da Vinci bloke and become a human wheel (I witnessed a very tall lad called Brian try this, but his mates wouldn't stop revolving him for about five minutes, laughing as he squealed).

There was a sort of spinning disc at 45° on which you stood and held on to a central post before losing not only your balance but several of your teeth, a few more of those wobbly mirrors, and a small, finely-weighted daft roundabout in the middle of the room — clearly only put there as something else to bash your head on when you fell off one of the other things. The tunnel was pitch black with ricketty planks of wood to trip on and twist your ankles to shrieks of terror from the Ghost Train through the wall and, because you had to pay to get back in again if you went outside, I know of at least one kid who would sneak into the furtive gloom of the tunnel to 'go to the toilet'.



The Council
Rubbish Tip


Something else which seems hard to believe now but, behind the old seafront council offices and the Priory Theatre, there was a big yard in the corner of which the binmen would temporarily dump huge piles of stinking rubbish. Even in summertime. What a pong! It must have been stuff thrown away from the shops on the Spanish City 'island' as I remember having a rummage in there in 1975-76 and pinching discarded shop displays and other stuff which we would take away and smash somewhere. Kids eh?

We once found dozens of spent flourescent tubes and had a highly dangerous but a scream of a 'javelin fight' in the library park. And they made a lush loud 'bang' when you stamped on them!
 
Right next to Jack's House was an outside tap on the wall beside the slimy Empress toilets, positioned perfectly for the refilling of water pistols and squeezy bottles (of which more later).

THE DODGEMS

My favourite although you only seemed to get a total swizz 20 seconds for your bummed-off-older-sister 10p. I remember a blond guy who worked on various rides (those money-collecting staff always wore white coats didn't they); don't know his name but he looked like the lead singer from Flintlock. Anyway, so the bell goes and the dodgems are off......he's showing off on the back of one with two giggling schoolgirls at the wheel, when he slips, falls off and his arm gets crushed between the bumpers of two cars. I still allow myself a smile when I think back — one minute he thinks he's David Essex in That'll Be The Day and the next he's screaming like a girl. The puff.

THE WALTZER

Employed sadistic teddy boy operatives who, in something best described as schadenfreude, would spin you faster by shoving the car round with the soles of their beetle crushers. You'd cling like peaches and for dear life to the metal "safety" hoop, pressed back into the seat as the G-force sucked out your eyeballs. Just the job when someone was ill and their mates all got covered in sick.

THE SKID

Amazing how this was ever allowed, Kitemark rejection doubtless lost in the post. A crazy non-undulating Waltzery type of thing where the car in which you chose to die was controlled (in theory) by a pedal, allowing your car to violently pivot in a 180° arc and slam and lunch-losingly bounce you back against a "safety" wire. (Now I'm sure Rob Healy won't mind me telling this, but one day he quickly guzzled a can of warm Coke and onto the Skid we went. I'd mastered the foot control by this time so off we go, bashing from wire to wire. Rob staggered out of the car afterwards and marked his territory with what I can only describe as a frothy trail of fizzy pop and half-digested tinned spaghetti.)



The Spanish City?

Surely The Scottish City would've been been more fitting, the power of the tartan poond over the years. But no, it was named, a local historian tells me, because of an intrepid by the sound of it group of Spanish Toreadors who visited the town in 1904. Right bunch of fairies.

So that was the big deal. Neither was it Spanish, nor was it a city. It's like, you know, Indian restaurants that call themselves "The Taj Mahal", though they are quite clearly not the actual Taj Mahal. It is all of these things and yet none of them somehow.
 
THE BIG DIPPER

I remember this from the early '70s, before its no-surprise demise, watching the cars whizz round and up through the little tower and down. But there was an incident or several in which the cars left the rails, hurtling hapless passengers to a final one-way-systemward jam-fest. You weren't supposed to stand up either in case you were flung to kingdom come, but of course there's always one as my nanna used to say. Didn't a roller car once fly right over the road and crash through the windows of Taylors garage, onto the unsuspecting car salesmen with their white shirts and minty breath? Bye bye Big Dipper. Though fate was to be tempted further many years later when the Corkscrew was unleashed onto Whitley Bay's regular scream-merchants and thrill-seekers, there are sadly no additional deaths nor catastrophes to report.

THE JETS

Yanking back that joystick, noisily packing the compressed air till the 'boom' (big metal arm thing to which your Jet was hopefully secured) was near vertical, and just staying up there till the end of the ride, the wind whistling through your curls and pocket money tumbling from your pockets, to Mike "The Wombles" Batt's 'Summertime City' booming out from the stacks. Another thrill was to work the joystick forwards and backwards so your Jet would 'bounce' up and down. See that kid with an ice cream down there, standing too close...... okay, next time round...... (Disclaimer: never actually hit anyone, dammit.)

THE TWISTER

Like we did last summer. Probably more fun to stand as close as you dared to the revolving cars spinning furiously towards you than being on the ride itself. And you certainly had less chance of being killed, unless it was you who just happened to be in the way of whichever poor bloke that week slipped under the — oh go on then — "safety" bar.

THE GRAND NATIONAL

What else but a bunch of wooden horses, saddled with what looked like old motorbike seats, which raced in unison around a surging and dipping track. Now either the non-alcohol content of several Cider Barrel ice lollies was 'kicking in', or else I'm sure that the operator would crank up the last ride late at night to twice the speed. For a laugh. None of today's stick-in-the-mud Health and Safety shite.

“It hides a nasty stain that's lying there...”

AMUSEMENT ARCADES

There were loads of these in and around "The City", and so much better in the days before video games took over. Those machines where kids would drop in 2p, give it a big shove when the man wasn't looking and loads of coins would fall in the tray below. The archaic Grand National betting thing on which mini-Lester Piggotts and Joe Mercers whizzed around a track. Of course you never won anything in these places despite spending hours banging fruit machines and stabbing fiercely at the buttons on anything noisy with flashing lights. Oh and Air Hockey on which your fingertips got smashed as you shuffled mini Mexican hats to hit a floating-on-air plastic disc puck thing.

Arcades were usually just somewhere to go when it rained, open all year, and they're mostly now long gone...... The Mint (Little Johnny worked the change kiosk, the little guy with curly ginger hair, a bit like Professor Pat Pending), Talk of The Town (fabbo Playboy pintable which wolf whistled at you, and afternoons playing pool with Stobbsy instead of going to school), and American Pastimes (was that the same as Millers?).

OTHER DUBIOUS PASTIMES TO CROW ABOUT...

...included the grand Victorian carousel with haunting fairground organ and horses with daft names; the Octopus ride; roundabouts with the old Austin pedal cars and little double decker buses you could go upstairs on; a little green track next to the House of Fun with pretendy Mini Mokes; the big bumpy slide (pictured above) in which you sat on a sack and bounced all the way down till your arse was black and blue; and various sideshows with furry gonks and darts and stuff. Wasn't there a Big Wheel in the very early '70s or was that the decade before?

THE "FORTUNE TELLERS"

I remember a few of us kids (names withheld) pretending to be Starsky and Hutch at the several "Real Grandaughter of Gypsy Rose Lee" caravan/hut things — one of us would quickly open the door to the waiting area, and the rest with Jif lemons or Fairy Liquid bottles full of water (filled from the tap mentioned above) would soak the elderly ladies inside before slamming the door shut and legging it. Now that was fun (if not fair)! Of course the crowds were such that you could just soak someone from behind and disappear before they turned round.



















































































































Wilson Matilda #2 — Above are my 3 ultra-fab sisters in mid-late '70s, from left-to-right: Julie in front of the Waltzer (with friend Sue Warwick on the left who I always thought looked like Danny Bonaduce from the Partridge Family, and an archetypal '70s kid archetypally called Kenny who hovered around), Sandra posing on the Carousel, and Susan (with school chum Sonia on the right, or Sardine as I used to call her in my pathetic juvenile manner). And me, being the youngest in the family, well guess who got the 'hand-me-downs'.