Sunday, June 23, 2013

Elephants, Proms, and the American Mad Mouse

So the Kelvin Hall is to close. Gosh. It's taken me a while to catch up on this news, and it would seem that the arena was used for a final fling only last night. It's to reopen "by the end of the decade" as the - presumably very much bigger - Hunterian Museum, thereby merging two arenas, as it were, of memory, as far as I'm concerned.

So, as the space is cleared for whatever huge refashioning is to take place, I thought I'd take a totally gratuitous amble round my memory, beginning in childhood. I'm talking small child with parents, really, when I recall going to the Kelvin Hall Carnival - that magical time that straddled the Christmas holidays when the hall was filled with rides and amusements and the Circus lurked in the arena in the far left-hand corner of a space made bigger, it seemed to me, by the thundering machines that filled it. The Chairoplanes were always at the entrance - remember them? The whirling seats on the end of their chains, their screaming occupants high overhead, virtually horizontal as the momentum grew. I was never allowed to go on that (maybe because of this accident), and I don't know that I wanted to, but ... And the motorbikes, a faintly scarey ride of my almost-teenage years, a roundabout that at top speed made you feel as if you and your bike were heading straight down a dark tunnel, holding on for dear life as the centrifugal force tried to hurl you off.

My later memory of the Carnival involved going after school with three friends. We must have been about 15, I think, and the American Mad Mouse had arrived - a primitive and relatively small scale roller-coaster. The worst bit about it was the way you had to sit in the narrow, rocket-shaped car: astride a central seat with your legs out in front of you. I was stupid enough to go at the rear, and as we mounted the first steep incline, I realised I had three hefty schoolgirls to all intents and purposes sitting on my lap. Not a good moment.

I think I made it to the circus once. I was always being ill in the winter and you had to book. My parents probably gave up. I don't think I liked it much.

Later memories involve the SNO Proms. After the tragic destruction of the St Andrew's Halls, the Proms were rehoused in the Kelvin Hall arena. (We always said it smelled of elephants.) I shall never forget the rituals that quickly grew up - queuing just behind the red pillars at the front entrance (see photo) until the doors opened, then running like maniacs across the acres of empty floor to the entrance of the arena to get in the front row of the promenade area, where there was a bench laid all along the front of the stage, about three feet from the orchestra. Possession of a bums-width bit of bench meant you could sit out the hour's wait for the concert to begin, and go on sitting, if you wanted, during the concert. You were so close to the conductor and orchestra that you felt part of it, and you could catch the eye of players who might even - joy - wink at you. Who wanted to pay for a seat when you could have all this fun? I heard an astonishing amount of music this way over, I suppose, four or five years of prom-going.

And now it's closing. There's a sober chance I might never see it reopened. (Gosh. Again.) The hall is over - but the memories linger on ...

Sorry. Enough already.

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