Carnival Memories

On Carnival Day, everyone had to be at the various clubs and pubs very early in the morning, this ostensibly for the decoration of the ‘Float’ and costume fitting. There was always a group of willing volunteers, and because the clubs were open for serving drinks throughout the day it was great fun. Every organisation in the valley took part and always had one eye on the weather because rain plays havoc with crepe paper dresses and cardboard decorations, a whole years hard work and a ‘float’ could be ruined by a shower.

The ‘floats’ were basically any form of transport that we could find, the backs of coal lorries and farm trailers would need to be scrubbed out and floored with bits of felt or colliery conveyor belt scavenged from the local tip.  A Carnival ‘float’ theme would have been decided by the women’s committee during the previous Winter months, this was a closely guarded secret between organisations. In my day the pride was in the individuality of each ‘float’. Themes went from the topical to the literary: a popular one for the children were Nursery Rhymes such as Old McDonalds Farm with all the children dressed as various animals, usually perched precariously on hay bales provided by the local farms atop a farm trailer.

Cartoon characters were a huge favourite: Snow White and her 7 ‘dwarves’, Beverly Hillbillies, Dr Who and his Daleks were often represented. But it  was the adult club ‘floats’ that really were the highlight of any Garw Carnival. One of the easiest was a scene from a Western saloon complete with scantily dressed ‘saloon girls’ in fishnet stockings and garters, with a few grizzled ‘cowboys’ sitting around drinking whisky and playing cards. Every now and then a fight would break out, now some of these were staged, but I know of some which were not, luckily no gunplay was involved.

I remember being very impressed by a ‘float’ depicting Moby Dick, with a ‘real’ Captain Ahab pinned by harpoons to the side of a life size White whale? The following year this club turned out an enormous Trojan Horse complete with soldiers inside it!

Alongside the children’s ‘floats’ walked the parents responsible for the passengers, they were there principally to watch that no-one actually fell off, but it was also a full time job removing children to go to the toilet, a very difficult task if that child was in an elaborate costume, of course they then had to run to catch up with their float?

In between the larger ‘floats’ there were the smaller organisations in the valley, Cadets, Scouts, Cubs, Guides and Brownies, Church and Chapel organisations etc. Other walking groups came from individual streets, I do remember particularly a depiction of Tutenkhamun, with  Egyptian slave ‘girls’ carrying a golden sarcophagus between them.

No Carnival was complete without the ‘Jazz’ bands, they were always a splendid sight to see. Most would have a very pretty Majorette at its head, skilfully twirling and throwing a silver topped baton into the air and catching it with a flourish, she was often accompanied by an identically dressed Mini- majorette mascot, of about 5 or 6 years of age and copying her every move, this always delighted the crowd and helped to fill up the donation buckets following on behind the band.

Jazz bands were accompanied by a Corps of Drums, some had instruments like Glockenspiels and even Xylophones. But the most popular of all was without doubt the Kazoo. This ‘musical’ instrument was made of tin, and to make it work you had to hum or ‘der’ into the narrow end?  Now, if you all ‘derr-ed’  the same tune then the effect could be quite musical, if not it was for all the world like a swarm of angry bee’s. Popular tunes were The theme from Z Cars and Colonel Bogey’s March and The Dambuster’s music.

The route of the Carnival was from the bus terminus in Blaengarw (Carn Houses), down through the valley to Pantygog, then it turned around and headed back to either Blandy Park Football field or Blaengarw Rugby field on alternate years? Various groups would join the parade on its way down the valley, stopping to let a group join the parade usually mean’t the Jazz bands having to ‘mark time’ until everything was sorted. This gave people time to study the work gone into a ‘float’ and compare it to the others. ( and get idea’s for next years Carnival) Another very popular float theme was ‘A Night in the Sultan’s Harem’?  This was often depicted by ‘young’ girls, and sometimes men, dressed in bikini’s and wrapped with what looked like they’re Nans coloured net curtains, all dancing suggestively around a rather portly be-turbanned gent, painted with gravy browning  and lounging on a pile of cushions, smoking a Hookah pipe, all this in a cardboard setting of downtown Bagdhad, the whole effect being finished of with two prop forwards, blacked up, with turbans and pantaloons and carrying huge scimitars as the Harem guards.

Before Political Correctness went completely bonkers, no Carnival was complete without a ‘Chain Gang’, usually a group of young men chained together, blacked up and wearing tea towel loincloths, with a slave master brandishing a bullwhip, laying about them, much to the delight and encouragement of the crowd.

But my favourite, and the one I was most envious of was the Zulu warriors or Cannibals.  These were in fact the youth Rugby team. Their bodies painted black (all over) and wearing Leopard or Tiger skin outfits, which on reflection were probably car seat covers? These ‘warriors’ would have the best of times,  running into the crowds lining the streets and kidnapping the prettiest girls and carrying the screaming, and wriggling victims over their shoulders, to be put in the ‘Cooking pot’, a plastic barrel perched on a ‘gambo’ which was being pulled along by the less energetic or more inebriated of the warriors. Demanding kisses for the victims freedom, and blacking their prisoners faces into the bargain.

Whichever field the carnival ended up in, everyone arrived there eventually. Beer and food stalls would have been set up and the queue for the toilets would be huge.  Sometimes there would be a judging committee and prizes were awarded for the best float, costume, jazz band.  Marching competitions were held, the carnival went on throughout the day. It must have taken an enormous amount of planning, which then nobody thought about. So I would like to dedicate this article to all those unsung heroes & heroines of the past, the Carnival organisers.

3 comments Add yours
  1. I have only the one vague memory of a Garw Carnival back in the mid 1950s. I do remember though being amazed by one group of men who changed their formation without my seeing how they did it!

    I am unsure where my father and I were at the time, but family members think it was in Victoria Street. My young cousin from Blaengarw was with us at the time and we were given one of those ice-lollies with two handles which could be broken apart for two kids to have equal shares. 2 old pennies whole or 1 old penny for a half? We then watched the parade form up on a field behind the shop whose back window we looked out from, and this was the same place that we received the ice-lolly from the lady.

    Perhaps the field was the one near the Police Station in Victoria Street, as my grandmother’s cousin Mrs Heulwen Bryant (autie Heulwen) kept the Post Office there. Perhaps someone could refresh my memory please.

  2. Back in about 1973 we “blacked up” as Youth Rugby boys and did the Harlem Globetrotters. The blacking was very difficult to wash off and they let us use the Pit Showers before we went back in the Blaen.

  3. I’m in this Carnival photograph. If you look the top right hand corner, you’ll see a boy with white trousers, that’s me, sitting on the fence of my parents house, 136 Oxford Street. I think the young man on the road is Neil Burroughs, but not clear enough to be certain. Early 1970s by the looks of it.

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