Spin and spew

I Travelling fairs and amusement parks catch you off guard. Comfortable comprehension of the environment is never attained; everything evolves, changes, vanishes, re-emerges or is hybridised in the most unpredictable fashion. Fairgrounds work around the tensions of the phenomenal and noumenal, shifting what might be thought acceptable and everyday into the realm of the transgressive, surreal and thrilling. Tangible and intangible elements are brought to life to serve the illusory and illuminating, through overpowering aesthetics rooted in what Barbara Jones calls the ‘unsophisticated arts’. Everything touched by the fairground—from freakish objects on display, simulative and vicarious experiences, extreme thrills, cheap ‘swag’ prizes and the sense of mystery surrounding the actual coming-to-be of the whole fair—dwells in the clutches of the nonsensical, marked out in a mutant vernacular pumped on steroids (giant plastic hot dogs, for example). Popular culture in all its bizarre and ephemeral manifestations is digested, chewed and spat out such that anachronistic icons and genres from music, film and celebrity are placed side by side or on top of each other—accretions of acculturations—with peeling paint revealing glimpses of this chrono-clash. Any evidence of the everyday is distorted as if being viewed through a fairground mirror. Stretched out of shape and made an object of curiosity or self ridicule, nothing is allowed to escape the fairground purview. It goes without saying that food at the fairground and amusement parks simply does not make sense. Food is either bright, garish and high in sugar or fast and greasy. It is bundled into paper bags, cardboard cones or polystyrene trays and simply handed to you as you turn to rejoin the bumping flow of excited punters. It is hurriedly consumed, frustratingly dropped, occasionally rejected and ultimately discarded as you go straight on to a bunch of fast-moving, spinning rides. II Whilst often considered separately, the amusement park and travelling fairground share common heritage roots. A rough sketch would show fairgrounds historically rooted in ancient moveable feasts and celebrations, seaside amusement parks adopting a carnivalesque flavour at the end of the 19th century and theme parks emerging under the influence of Walt Disney as an ideological hybridisation of the grand exhibition vista of the World’s Fair. This translates as a staggering of the coeval: theme parks around the world share a common syntax under a remit of globalisation, amusement park spaces will vary from country to country, whilst travelling fairs conform to the local. The consumption of food in these environments is localised in terms of the food offered and the manner of its offering (although challenged everywhere to stay within the stomach). Regional and contextual nuances apply—amusement parks in the United States are underpinned with hot dogs provided by Nathan’s Famous, whilst food traditions at German travelling fairs involve sit down tents with excessive beer drinking and unsophisticated food served in dedicated spaces with a temporary ambience away from the intensity of the mechanical fairground (albeit maintained by the presence of fairground organs). Many fairgrounds in the UK have their historical roots in the celebration of food as part of a wider, ancient adherence to the seasonal rhythms of agricultural production, trading and labour. Examples of fairs celebrating cheese, cherries, honey and geese have been carried through to the contemporary era, however—as with many fairs set out for the purposes of hiring labour—these historical attachments are often not stressed beyond tokenistic remembrance. As thrills and spills began to define these fairs their original rationale either fell away or became the responsibility of the showmen providing the rides and attractions. Similarly, most fairs in the UK have food supplied solely by showpeople families a homogenous and standardised ‘fairground cuisine’ defined in two broad categories: sweet and savoury. Sweets on the fairground are exemplified by candy floss, popcorn, toffee apples and various biscuits, rocks and nougats, whilst savouries are now almost solely defined by chips, burgers and hot dogs. A food stall on the fair may specialise in either sweets or savouries, or combine both, such that skillets of frying onions sit alongside candy floss barrels, facilitating an interpermeation of odours. Indeed, for many punters on the UK fairs it is this bizarre hybrid stench that defines the fairground culinary experience. Regional specialisms are evident, such as black peas in Lancashire and mushy peas in Nottingham, but every good showman is also a chameleon—capable of rebranding or remarketing their wares to specific local custom or preference. Wider attempts to move the fairground cuisine in exciting directions have been treated with caution, particularly as the fairground likes to keep a sense of identity manifested in distinctive sensory experience. Although the UK Fast Food Fair was founded in 1976 and includes the fairground within its remit, little evidence of experimentation is apparent. For example, the 1984 trade fair attempted to pioneer 45 new savoury popcorn flavours, including bacon and egg, ham and garlic and cheese and herbs. Savoury popcorn made no impact at all on the UK fairground. By the millennium the industry admitted defeat in diversification and by 2001 was commenting on the emergence of the reheatable jumbo sausage. This jumbo sausage, or hot dog, had been the staple diet of the UK fairgoer since the Second World War when it was introduced as a cheap economy product based (appearance-wise but not content-wise) on the German Frankfurter. In recent years the UK has witnessed something of a food revolution with the onset of specialist coffee franchises, gastropubs and a gamut of television programmes celebrating cooking and celebrity chefs. There is evidence of the fairground responding to this challenge, but always in tandem with the standard offerings. III Design of fairground rides—roller coasters in particular—tend to focus on exposure to gravitational forces in the three (xyz) axes: forces upwards and downwards head to toe, shear forces from the side and forces met head-on. These forces are calculated at both impact and sustained levels to allow rides to develop maximum thrill capacity through expressive speed and movement without damaging internal organs, skeletal structures or impeding blood flow. Nauseogenic factors—the capacity to make you throw up—are not considered, making a ride that delimits and reduces the symptoms of travel sickness (nausea and vomiting, awareness of the stomach, sweating, facial pallor) counterintuitive to the rationale for the ride itself. Many of these symptoms are part of the process of looking at or anticipating the ride. John Golding at the University of Westminster specialises in nauseogenicity and investigates all motion situations where sickness can arise. This work brings him into contact with fairground rides as well as with amusement park Cinerama environments where nausea through self-vection (the feeling that you are moving when you are still) is a common problem. Much of Golding’s work is founded on the three principles of what can cause motion sickness: visual-vestibular factors (motion of the head compared to visual senses), canal-otolith factors (rotation of the head with regard to matching change in gravitational vectors) and utricle-saccule factors (relating to acceleration). Is there a hard and fast rule for the design of certain types of rides that make us sick? Clearly a ride that induces vomiting would not make a viable proposition for a showman. Cleaning the ride’s seating area and walkways would be both cumbersome for the showman and off-putting for other riders who felt themselves to be of strong enough constitution. But rides do gain a reputation for inducing nausea. British fairgrounds of the 1980s introduced rides involving a fast spin-within-a-spin that gained a reputation as ‘spin and spew’ rides. The rides called ‘Cobra’ and ‘Scat’ were marketed around 1978 and by the start of the 1980s had a fearsome reputation. Both quickly faded from the fairground. In more recent times I took my daughter on the spinning and swinging ‘Pendulus’ at the Pleasure Island theme park only to glimpse (and smell) a mop and bucket of disinfectant stowed behind the control box. Sure enough, as the ride completed its cycle (and I felt incredibly close to vomiting) a passenger got into a panic waiting for the overhead restraints to lift. Contorting her face and thrusting their torso helplessly, out came the vomit followed by the mop and bucket. IV With this history and knowledge now behind us it is possible to tentatively propose an ontology of disjecta and ejecta for food on the fairground. The provisional diagram shows the tangled relationships between things eaten and then discarded as debris, things purchased for eating and then discarded as undesirable, things purchased for eating and then accidently dropped for a number of reasons (being bumped into, inadequate packaging, the food content falling into pieces) and ultimately things vomited. My original intention for this research was to use a methodology I have been developing as part of a wider range of epistemologies, looking at the traces of things left behind in the grass by the fair. This is a vague epistemology, in that forensic evidence is clearly there, but precisely what this evidence infers is open to interpretation. Vague epistemologies invite rigorous thinking and rule-making, such that you work harder towards a thesis that is likely to remain stricken with uncertainty, rather than glossing over something that is assumed to be clear and obvious.* It quickly occurred to me that significant traces of dropped, abandoned or vomited-up food would not persist long after the fair had departed, in that food scraps and litter would be picked up by the showmen or quickly imbibed or disturbed by foxes, vermin or errant dogs.** The photographs gathered here were thus sourced whilst the fair was in situ–principally the large fairs at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Cambridge falling in the Midsummer week towards the end of June 2015. Consequently, some evidence moved from a vague to a certain epistemology, in that I witnessed food items being thrown away (see the discarded toffee apple alongside a discarded but complete toffee apple). However, for other items discovered already on the ground as I undertook circuits around the ground with my camera, it is difficult to tell between something dropped by accident and something rejected as undesirable or frankly inedible. Furthermore, various unfathomable coefficients can be proposed. For example, the notion of something discarded as undesirable is a spectrum of subjectivity between taking one bite and throwing away the product and consuming it to near enough (but not quite) the end. Is a half-eaten burger to be considered in terms of satisfaction (as to what is consumed) or disgust (as to what is abandoned)? Likewise, it is hard to make the evidence speak of the disappointment engendered (if indeed at all) from something clearly dropped accidentally. The grid of evidence shows the results. The top row of images depicts food as temptation, the second row depicts food dropped, the third abandoned and discarded, the fourth as consumed and discarded as litter and finally the fifth row as vomit. I can offer some examples of my reasoning. Firstly, consider the hot dog deduced as dropped (second row, second picture). My argument is that if this had been sampled and discarded as inedible then the evidence would show two halves of the bread and the sausage with just a small but equal fraction missing. However, a whole half of bread and a whole sausage suggests that the food package came away at the join leaving just a half of bread in the hands of the punter. That this other half of bread is not in evidence suggests it has been eaten, which further suggests an element of disappointment at the dropping of the food. Secondly, I claim that the marshmallow sweets (third row, third picture) have been abandoned because if they had been dropped they could have been reclaimed since they are partly shielded in their wrapper. Finally, the trace of the vomiting induced by nauseogenic fairground rides can be connected to any of the practices of consuming (whole, partial by accident, partial by choice) since it reveals what is lying uppermost in the stomach. This will include food purchased and eaten on the fairground and, if unlucky, remnants of undigested meals taken earlier in the day. A closer inspection of quantity, configuration and colour intensity (to discern between the sweet and savoury, or indeed their culinary conjugation) might be possible for those inclined to such forensics. *A good example of a vague and seemingly trivial epistemology leading to rigorous analysis and method is Samuel Beckett’s mathematical endeavours in setting out a system for Molly and his sucking of stones. Cartesian elegance is pushed beyond breaking point to glimpse systems of babble and disorder. ** What is generally left behind on a fair that has occupied a grassy area such as a park, common or moorland are patterned marks in the grass, stains, small details such as broken light caps, bits of packaging and coins.

Ian Trowell