I’ve had some crackingly good arguments in my life. I’ve faced off , I’ve quarreled , disputed, beefed and bickered with the best of them. From the base slanging match to the most sophisticatedly constructed Socratic discussion, I’ve relished a bit of verbal fighting, twisting theories and reason on politics, religion, and who is the hardest, my dad or your dad since I first managed to put words together. I’ve even had an argument about the Boer War in a bar at 2am. A bar at 2am in Lisbon. A bar at 2am in Lisbon with a South African Michael Jackson impersonator in full costume, who had earlier refused to moonwalk for me as he ‘has to be paid to do that’. Being called a genocide apologist by a man getting so riled he kept waving his one gloved hand in my face as I uselessly suppressed giggles at the sheer absurdity is an experience quite impossible to convey and do any justice to.
So it stands to reason that when a man is standing in front of me in public, brazenly exhibiting his wares on a stall, and he is so WRONG, so brazenly WRONG, I have to have a word. Stapleford Carnival, September 2009, and I meet a Creationist.
As Beestonians, you will have no need to visit Stabbo Carnival. We have Beeston Carnival, and that does us fine, but this year I sort of overslept in an incident not unrelated to a previous evening’s prodigious wine intake. I actually managed to forget it, and was only made aware when a friend, a friend in London texted me to ask how it was. By the time I struggled down to Broadgate Park with my notepad and pencil, only a few burst balloon skins and the lingering aroma of fried burgers are testament to what was before. Sorry Beestonia. It was probably ace. If its any consolation, I had a good lie-in.
So an invite to Ilkeston Recreation ground doesn’t get ignored, and I steel myself for the worst. However, this is no hatchet job. I loved the carnival as a kid, having grown up on a street opposite its site, and I still feel that this love of strolling aimlessly round a field on rainy summers day watching performers that may have been short in talent but long in enthusiasm, past stores selling tat and odd food inspired my later habit of traipsing around musical festivals doing exactly the same thing. Its sweet, the old ladies selling Tombola tickets, the crap rides that nevertheless thrill pre-schoolers by simply going round and round in tight pointless circles (though I was a bit surprised to see that on one carousels the owner had evidently thought that cartoon beetles were just not exciting enough, so had glued plastic Uzis to the fibreglass insect’s head).
There was some fantastic entertainment too, although unintentional, as a side show featuring cowboys with LOUD GUNS was scheduled at the same as a performing dog show. I will let you imagine how that went. It was funny, in a way that made you proud. The PA system, provided by the DJs at Erewash Sound, was an added delight, as the poor MC tried his hardest to get a grip on the situation as another spaniel decided the apocalypse had kicked off, so sod the see-saws and cloth tunnels, it was off up the woods to live feral.
There were displays of owls and parrots, for fans of wizards and pirates (I’m neither, i’m more into huge vultures when it comes to birds I would like to adorn my shoulder. This probably says something very worrying about me). Organic veg was for sale alongside boxes of VHS videos of long-forgotten ITV sit-coms, home-made fairy cakes and Mills and Boon, naughty kids mingled with twinkly grannies, all in the shadow of the pointed height of Hemlock Hill. It rained, but only a tad, a bored drizzle that wandered off after a few minutes to annoy Trowell. It never hit the heights of the carnivals of old, where sky-divers would drop down from passing planes, waltzers would crash round from open to close and the floats would be inventive and multiple. There was only one this time round, which made its winning of the first prize in the float competition a shoe-in. But it was a day-out, probably raised some money for charidee, and no one died. Then I meet a bloody creationist.
He had a small stall, a gazebo with glossy pictures of the universe with statements such as HUBBLE HUBBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE: TELESCOPE DISPROVES EVOLUTION MADNESS in terrible fonts printed across, and a trestle table with books and magazines proclaiming that Darwin was the devil, and those that believed in his rationality were destined to join him in an eternal fiery pit. The long dead but still wonderful Bill Hicks once perceptively pointed out that those who didn’t believe in evolution somehow looked un-evolved themselves, however I wont say that about the Creationist. He looked like Gyles Brandreth. Which is much worse. A gimlet eyed, more annoying version of Brandreth, if thats possible. I couldn’t stand for this. Not the resemblance to the smarmy ex-Tory MP, though that certainly was an itch to scratch, but his beliefs. In a world where rationality daily saves lives, illuminates the world and shows us how wonderful the universe is without need for superstition, and in a world where these noble enlightenment ideas are threatened by intolerant fundamentalists who believe anything is ok as long as they can hook their faith to it, a stand has to be taken. I bristle, and step forth.
But as I stroll over, I notice something, and it stops me in my tracks. For the whole duration of my examination of his store, not a single person stopped and examined the stuff on offer. A few gaze over as they pass, and the most of these let out little laughs or smiles as they consider the silliness of it all. No one stops. No one looks over with curiosity, just amusement. I look at the Creationist, and he is looking desperate, holding out leaflets that if took, are only took automatically, stuffed into pockets and forgotten about.
I catch his eye, and he smiles. I smile back, then turn around, walk back into the crowd. Sometimes theres no point. I buy a bag of cakes and peruse a Blue Peter Annual from 1986. Life is sweet.