Mirth and Woe: Fairground Shoot-out
"I remember Tofifee," somebody said to me recently, "You could only get them by shooting a box off the shelf at the fun fair with a cork."
And that is more or less true. There must be whole obscure brands of confectionary that can only be obtained as funfair swag, the result of outrageous luck with a clapped out pump-action air rifle that could shoot round corners, on a stall run by some old woman who could knock you down dead with one look of her mangled fizzog. When they stopped selling sweet cigarettes in the shops, you could still get them by the truckload by hooking a rubber duck with a number painted on the bottom when the fair came to town. Only a quid a go.
After several years of abject failure with a shooter, I suddenly realised that my finely honed marksman skills counted for naught in the twisted world of the fairground shooting gallery. I devised myself A Cunning Stratagem.
My Cunning Stratagem involved firing the first cork as straight as I could, aiming at a fixed point. A friend, acting as a spotter, would tell me where the cork had actually gone, and following his instructions, we found we could eventually hit the target nine times out of ten.
"Try aiming eighteen inches to the left," he would say, and this at a range of no more than six feet, which spoke volumes on how crooked the game really was.
We ate like Kings that night. Kings who would then bowk rich brown vomit all over the dodgems. Kings that were told to "Fuck off" by the carnies, who, as a rule did not have the highest regard for kids who puked over their bumper cars.
Squaggy from down the road had his own Cunning Stratagem to beat the wizened old hag and her wrecked pile of scrap metal that posed as air rifles. As soon as her back was turned, he would whip out his own air pistol - slightly modified to accept a cork up the muzzle - and blaze away to his heart's content, until the carnies told him to fuck off, as well. When you are told to fuck off by a mountain of tattoos wielding the three-foot long spanner they use to stop the Octopus ride from falling to pieces, you fuck off pretty damn sharpish.
Our fiendish Cunning Stratagem also seemed to be working far too well for their liking. Coming back for another armful of Tofifee and fake ciggies, the ugly old bat told us "You're barred".
We, of course, bided our time.
The Summer Fair might have been over, but we knew full well they'd be back at the arse end of October for the Bonfire Night celebrations. By that time, the old woman with a face like a sexually molested sloth would have forgotten us, and so it proved. And we had a new Cunning Stratagem.
The Cunning Stratagem was even more cunning than the first Cunning Stratagem. And it was this: try not to win with every shot. They tend to notice that sort of thing. Also, there was the small matter of honour and respect to be sorted out. We had a score to settle.
I put in my usual sighter, and John helpfully told me that the rifle was now at least two feet off beam and virtually firing sideways. Adjusting my aim, I eventually knocked a packet of sweets off the shelf into the canvas sheeting below. Eventually, we managed to attract Sloth Woman's attention to the fact that there were prizes to be handed out, and grudgingly, she bent over to fish it out for us.
That was the sound of four air rifles and a pistol firing a handful of corks up the old trout's arse.
That was the sound of Squaggy - the only one with an honest gun - missing an arse the size of a small central Asian nation from all of three feet.
"And that was my only dart, too."
Sloth woman found her voice, and an enormous lump of muscle and flesh appeared from the Throw-a-ping-pong-ball-into-a-goldfish-bowl-win-a-teddy-bear stall to mete out Carnie Justice.
"These little bastards shot me up the arse."
"They done WHAT?"
"Shot me. Up the arse."
"YOU'RE FOOKIN' DEAD!"
The Carnies must have had some sort of telepathic link - possibly through generations of funfair in-breeding - and before we knew it, spanner-wielding fairground workers were converging on us from all angles.
We legged it, into the night and far, far away; stopping only when we were safely behind Squaggy's shed, the sound of pursuit long gone.
We bided our time, and returned to the funfair the following summer hoping for further teenage revenge.
"Ten corks, please."
"Hang on - I know you - you're the bastards that shot me up the 'arris! PATRIIIIIICK!"