Monday, August 27, 2007

Coming Over All Bill Bryson

I had a Bill Bryson moment the other day- no, I didn't suddenly start writing laugh-out-loud prose (I wish). In his best-selling, and laugh-out-loud, volume Notes From a Small Island, he describes his road trip around the British Isles; a farewell tour to the country where he had lived for years before moving back to his native USA. In and amongst, he said some rather uncomplimentary things about Bradford. Well, I've been known to express similar sentiments about my home town myself, but Mike Priestley has never wanted to interview me. He did once sell my dad a MkII Cortina, though. I'm like that with the stars, me.

Anyway, one of the very few good things he had to say about the town concerned the National Museum of Film, Television and Photography Media Museum, and particularly the Pictureville Cinema, where he saw This is Cinerama. Cinerama was an early version of IMAX, which can also be enjoyed at the Photo Museum. The film was a showcase of the opportunities provided by the new technology, but Bryson enjoyed it more for the panoramic vision of an idealised 1950s America that it offered. I read the book while I was still living and working in Russia, and determined that I would see the film myself the next time I was home. Alas, catching up with mates in Denholme resulted in a lock-in at the pub, plus more liquid refreshment once we'd staggered home. I never got up in time to recover sufficiently to face the bus ride back down into town in time, and in the seven years that have passed, I hven't tried once to go again. Although it's on my list: The film is still shown every month.

It was this image of a sepia-tinged 1950s that sprang into my mind in the unlikely surroundings of Flamingoland, which is a theme park and glorified zoo. First impressions of the place are grim: with a canny Yorkshire eye for making an extra bob or two - and note it was the best part of thirty quid for myself and a three-year-old just to get in - once you're through the turnstiles you're immediately presented with stalls selling candy floss, ice cream and rats on sticks, just to get your stomach churning nicely for the roller-coasters. You're surrounded by sugar-rushing kids, and despondent parents viewing the lengthy queues for the rides, which were all plastic and soulless. Matters are not helped by the doleful animals in their enclosures, which even in the better safari parks always seem too small, and there is something very dispiriting about watching a Siberian Tiger padding about under a Yorkshire drizzle.

And then, like a vision of the HolyGrail, tucked away like the poor cousin at the back of the park was a wonderful wooden carousel. Take a look at this motorcycle:

The attention to detail is staggering - the sprung saddles; the fuel tap (which, natch, you can't see from this side...); those gloriously valanced mudguards, and the flowing figurehead; a thing of joy, only outclassed by this fabulous conveyance:

Again, you have some great styling touches - the ridge that runs the whole length of the car to become tailfins, the four - count 'em - headlamps; from the driver's point of view you can see not only a radio, but a petrol gauge and temperature gauge. Where do you get these components from? Were/are there suppliers of parts like pretend mudguards to the fairground industry, or was it just some talented bloke scratch-building models in a shed, somewhere in Belgium (in this case)? A luxury sports-tourer, then, from the glory days of American-influenced automobiles, although the punchline is provided by the caravan that it was towing... What saddened me was the contrast between the craftsmanship that some anonymous artisan had put into this ride, and the production-line shoddiness of the more modern attractions. Is it coincidence that this was the ride that Ms Dynamite-e-e spent most time riding on? Particularly given the first photo, I'm tempted to set off musing on Pirsig's ideas on the perception of quality, but I'll leave that for another day and another post. All I will say is fair play to Flamingoland for keeping this relic going, but, er, lads? It shows up the rest of your operation.


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Great post. I remember "Cinerama"! Oh, I want a ride in that little car on the carousel! you are right about the craftsmanship.

Liz said...

You can't beat the wonderful up-and-down Mary Poppins horse carousel. You could almost be riding.

Sir James Robison said...

Flamingoland - even the name conjures up images.

Shades said...

This is Cinerama is well worth seeing once, although the AIDA scenes go on a bit long.

Shades said...

James, some Yorkshire folk call the place Numptyland as it attracts a fairly lowbrow crowd.

Ian Appleby said...

"it attracts a fairly lowbrow crowd"

What are you trying to say?


Shades said...

Ian... a lot of people travel down from Cleveland!

The strange thing about Flamingoland (which was Flamingo Park Zoo when I was a nipper) is that people will pay getting on for a Grand to stay in a log cabin on site for a week. For a chuckle, follow the URL below and click on "log cabin details".