For as long as I can remember I have awaited the arrival of The Hoppings with a childlike anticipation bordering on maniacal – every June my budget centres around ensuring I have enough to be flung and spun into the air, I anxiously defend the dates in my diary with the skittishness of a new mother bear, and in the weeks leading up to it, I mysteriously morph into the world’s #1 fudge super fan; I just can’t seem to wait to get my hands on some Hoppings fudge despite being utterly indifferent towards it the rest of the year. Much to my dismay then, for the first time in my life, this year, I questioned the validity of my Hoppings love affair and my future relationship with it was thrown into turmoil – even more so than when it was temporarily cancelled last year (the horror!), and that’s saying something.
My Doncaster born friend, whom I’d spent the previous few days regaling with Hoppings related tales, came home from her first experience of it distinctly unimpressed. She described a lacklustre event and dreary setting which jarred with my own memory of frenetically flashing lights, wide eyed, slack-jawed children, shrieks of teenagers swelling to a crescendo as their upside down faces whizzed overhead, and the promise of greasy chips, warm donuts and candyfloss as reward for enduring the mud and braving The Bomber. As she scrunched her nose in reluctant scepticism, I felt my own face fall from excitement to disappointment on her behalf – and perhaps a pinch of embarrassment that her experience hadn’t lived up to my doe eyed depiction of the Town Moor in June. We arranged to go again with our group of friends and I reassured her we’d have a nice time and even just a wander around would be interesting. ‘I don’t knoooow, I mean maybe we’re just… too old?’. She shrugged apologetically as I mumbled something defensive like ‘maybe it’s a Geordie thing’ and I shuffled away confused, doubt rubbing up a little too close to my excitement for Hoppings night.
Too old. Too old. If it was a question of funfairs being exclusively for children, why then was I so enamoured by this event every single year? And why, when I thought about it, were most people I knew equally excitable on the morning the first few trailers rolled up on site? Was I imagining the air of anticipation that seemed to linger around the Town Moor as great hunks of metal were assembled piece by piece into the sky, almost in secret, over the course of a week? Remembering the indignation and sadness that permeated Newcastle when the news broke that The Hoppings was never to return due to a dispute between the Showmen’s Guild and Newcastle City Council, it occurred to me that our Geordie love for The Hoppings was about far more than what meets the eye. Popular rides come and go, an adrenaline junkie doesn’t necessarily rely on ‘Atmos-Fear’ for her fix, you can get better sweets at the Grainger Market and there seems to be a permanent Hoppings Raincloud that must follow that damn fair wherever it goes – on paper, The Hoppings does appear to be somewhat underwhelming.
In that case, perhaps our collective affection for this annual event is owed, in no small part, to our memory and nostalgia – perhaps together, these elements contribute to our sense of identity and pride as Geordies, which feeds back into the event. For me, the concept of memory and nostalgia being the bedrock of my love for The Hoppings is dual pronged – on the one hand I have my own experiences and happy childhood memories that urge me to come back and coax them out, while in the broader sense, my nostalgia for my city and the history that hangs in the air of the alleyways of The Hoppings adds to my intrigue and fascination with the place generally.
There is no doubt that The Hoppings plays a massive part in North East heritage. Starting life as The Temperance Festival in 1883, the Town Moor fair has undergone a gradual but radical transformation; the early days saw illusion booths and marionette shows, boxing rings, a flea circus, and cabinets of curiosities – today, the Newcastle skyline is transformed into a glittering sprawl of twisting machinery, shrieks and screams carried into the suburbs on the wind. Despite its evolution, while wandering up and down the alleyways you get a sense of the event’s history; a carousel dating back to 1881 greets revellers at the entrance, coconut shies are sprinkled between modern burger vans and traditional traveller wagons line the edge of the fair. Some of the smaller rides are so old they’re relics of another generation; not quite old enough to be considered antique, dated enough though that they’re kind of kitsch, bring back nice memories and indulge imagination. For me, and perhaps other Geordies, the sense of continuing such an engrained local tradition triggered by these nods to the past is part of the appeal; the nostalgia for our city’s heritage evoking fondness and affection.
Then there are, of course, the personal memories of thousands of Geordies who flock back time and again to relive their experiences and pass them on. Like strolling by a particular ride and reminiscing with your friends about the time a classmate didn’t take too kindly to the spinning; the trajectory of the ride and resultant G Force ending in a sick covered crowd and chain reaction of vomiting amongst almost everyone in the vicinity. I do wonder how many of us saw being flung and crunched around ‘The Shaker’ almost as a rite of passage. More than a decade after I myself clung on to the metal bar with one hand, while being smacked in the face by a stray bottle of Lucozade (that smelled suspiciously like vodka), I watched the teenagers of today putting themselves through the same traumatic experience. Bravado and sass clumsily concealing at least a little bit of genuine anxiety, against a backdrop of thumping New Monkey, an MC-ing ride operator and a crowd of amused adults, relieved that they themselves were no longer at The Shaker age. In the 13 years that had elapsed since my shaker age, not even the tiniest detail had changed, and maybe that’s why we are so fond of the fair as a whole.
It is one of our constants. Our region is complex and its future always just that little bit foggy. Many of our industries are exploding into prominence, our cities vibrant and eclectic, however we still reel from the decimation of our ship building and coal industries while our communities try to withstand the present pressures of austerity, unhelpful press and an uninterested government. While our region, like many others, sustains relentless blows from all sides, The Hoppings has provided muddy fun and familiarity for 130 years; it is not only immune to the social and political turbulence of the day, but actually offers sanctuary from it. Perhaps that is why so many of us were so distraught when it got cancelled last year… and then so relieved when it returned.
I, for one, am simply so happy The Hoppings is back, and thrilled that teenagers will be able to brave ‘The Shaker’ until the Cow Hill cows come home.