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Letter From America: Peruvian Gold

...The visiting fairs that set up on the muddy ground between the tram sheds and the abattoir were enchanted means of escape from the drudgery of life...

Ronnie Bray recalls the enchanting excitements of the fairs which visited his home town in Yorkshire.

Do please read more of Ronnie's superlative columns by clicking on Letter From America in the menu on this page.

Huddersfieldonians didn’t know much about Peru way back then, but the thought of owning a ring made of such exotic metal as Peruvian Gold was wildly exciting, and here was a man threatening to give them away! The visiting fairs that set up on the muddy ground between the tram sheds and the abattoir were enchanted means of escape from the drudgery of life.

The big roundabouts were gaudily painted fast moving scenes of fantastic animals generated in the minds of consummate artists whose imaginations were untrammelled by the boundaries that hemmed in the working classes of a town built on the backs of labourers in textiles, engineering, and dyestuffs. Gritty gray people with slouching backs, pasty grey faces, ill-fitting off the peg clothes, to whom fashion was a stranger, but who clung to the traditions of the West Riding that cheered and warmed their otherwise sterile work-a-day world.

Galloping horses and unicorns heaved their riders up and down in a madcap whirl sufficiently violent to dislodge and orbitalise badly fitting false teeth, and many a spectator lost part of an ear to a flying set of cheap choppers. The raucous music heightened the sense of movement so that boys and girls who had never been on a horse in their lives were for a few minutes astride the lead horse in Aintree’s Grand National, or flying on the back of a winged unicorn and, hopefully, into the arms of True Love.

What smaller rides and side shows lacked in critical volume they more than made up for by their gramophones pouring out "This-is-what-you-are-looking-for" music, and the bellows of the barkers encouraging passers by to spend to try and be a winner, and inviting winners to go and try their luck elsewhere.

The whole fairground was bounded on three sides by shoulder to shoulder enclosures housing shooting galleries, freak shows, boxing tents, in which anyone who could survive three rounds with the champ was given the princely sum of five pounds, a week’s wages for most, roll-a-penny stalls, hoop-la, dart-a-card, all manner of unlikely gambling games, and a seemingly unlimited array of opportunities for someone out for a good time to be parted with the money they brought for that very purpose.

In between the Ring-the-bell-and-get-a-slap-on-the-back-from-your-mates-and-a-kiss-from-your-girl" and the boxing punch-ball that invited show-offs to "Punch Like Helen B Merry" was a set of imposing jockey scales topped by a sign that said, "I Guess Your Weight – Peruvian Gold Ring If I Miss By More Than Five Pounds!" A stand covered in black velvet held a dazzling array of the gold rings, and, true to his word, when he missed by five or more pounds the punter chose a ring from the board.

Although I had not yet become accustomed to personal jewellery, I was fascinated by the thought of owning a ring made from Peruvian Gold. Yet my natural reticence to go to the front of anything held me back and I did not get my ring. I consoled myself with the thought that even if I had handed over the princely sum of sixpence the operator would probably have guessed correctly, so I would not have got a ring anyway, and I still had my sixpence!

A few more turns around the fairground and it was time to wander home, calling at Gothard’s chip ‘ole in the Beast Market for a bag of fish and chips with plenty of salt and vinegar, and eat them on the long haul up Trinity Street, finishing them just in time to throw the crumpled paper into the dustbin at the bottom of our back steps before going in the house.

Years later I learned the truth about Peruvian Gold. It was a deceptive verbosity for ‘gold-looking’ because Peruvian Gold was not gold but brass. Keep brass shiny and it looks splendid. Don’t keep it shiny and your finger drops off, reminiscent of the line in the song, "If this necklace is gold why’s my neck turning green?" I suppose that even the jewels in the ‘Peruvian Gold’ rings were also pretend.

I was reminded of my failure to secure some of this jewellery by reading an article on the Internet that tells that the most popular museum in Lima, Peru, ‘El Museo del Oro,’ is the centre of a controversy that has sent shock waves throughout the archaeological world, and has shaken Peru’s government. After numerous tests and a score years of contention, all the pre-Columbian gold artefacts in the museum have been declared counterfeit. The largest supposed collection of pre-Columbian gold in the world lies under a big black cloud because of the finding that of "4,349 metal pieces analysed, 4,237 are false and more than 100 have aroused strong suspicions concerning their authenticity."

That does not put them in the same class as the fairground offerings, because the gold in the Museum’s collection is genuine enough, but it is not all pre-Columbian, and not all from the region where it is said to have been collected, and the objects are of recent manufacture.

Like the man who claimed to have the ‘Original Axe of the Apostles that had had six new heads and ten new handles fitted,’ the Museum’s contents failed to satisfy the rigorous standards required by those whose business it is to know a thing or two about ancient worlds and their ingenuity. But they could not have been half as disappointed as they would have been if they had wandered onto the fairground at the bottom end of Town that Saturday night and been presented with a ‘Genuine Ring Made Of Peruvian Gold.’

Copyright © 2007 – Ronnie Bray


Selections from Ronnie's unfinished Autobiography:

Other Stories by Ronnie Bray:
Mormon Apologetics: http://www.fairlds.org/


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