Fairground attractions: John Carter's Fair shuns hair-raising rollercoasters in favour of 19th-century carousels. Dolly Dhingra goes for a spin

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The Independent Culture
To liberate a goldfish' was the politically correct explanation parents gave when they wanted to visit funfairs as children. There's not a single one to be won at John Carter's Steam Fair, which features classic rides that date back to the 19th century. Nor will you find freak shows, Siamese twins and elephant men - rest assured.

This charming fair is constantly on the move, travelling around the country's suburbs and villages for most of the summer.

John Carter, a burly, bearded man, is the owner and chairman of the Society of Independent Roundabout Proprietors. Together with his wife and five children, he is committed to providing traditional British entertainment. 'Our twin aim is to earn a living and always to put the 'fun' back into funfair.'

Most of the beautifully crafted rides have been rescued by Carter from scrap heaps or bid for at auctions. The most impressive ride on show is the 1895 carousel, driven by a period steam engine, to the sound of a 1900 Gavioli organ. The hand-carved wooden horses have names such as Zed, Seth and Joby. Carter regards them with affection as 'knights' chargers', reminiscent of pre-Raphaelite idealism.

The atmosphere of the fair is one of a gentle family outing and gangs of youths with pit bull terrier dogs are conspicious by their absence. 'It's lovely to be able to come to a funfair with children and not feel threatened,' Mrs Singh from London remarks.

The multicoloured Morris Minor roundabout seems to capture the children's imagination with spinning steering wheels and moving tyres. One child threw a tantrum each time the ride came to a halt. Five rides (at 80p a go) passed before the mother was forced to peel the screaming infant from his seat.

Amid traditional stalls and arcades of elderly slot machines that still take big brass pennies, men test their muscles on the authentic 'Test Your Strength' hammer and bell amusement.

If this seems too sedate for a funfair, rock 'n' roll enthusiasts will be delighted with the dodgems which feature some of the last British cars ever built, resplendent in chrome and customised with artwork that pays homage to the likes of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley.

John Carter's Fair is full of nostalgia and charm. For one visitor it's a matchless experience: 'When approaching a fairground at night you first hear the music, then as you get nearer you're suddenly overwhelmed by lights, colour and steam. There's no excitement quite like it in the world.'

Fairs in May: Lampton Park, Hounslow, London 1,2 May; Pinkneys Green, Berkshire 7,8 May; Winnersh, Berkshire 14,15 May

Further information on 0628 822221

(Photograph omitted)

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