So I have a confession to make: Brian and I are actually huge huge fans of the randomest things. Things we consider fun are typically entirely anachronistic from what any of our friends would ever want to do. For example, we once spent an entire night watching video recaps of Best Cosplays From insert city here Anime Con (we had a brief stint where all watched was Cosplay Heroes… and that’s saying something, because we don’t usually watch anything.) We once took an entire 3 months of swing dance lessons. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is also one of those things – no joke, as I was nerding out while planning our visit, I simultaneously fielded this horrific fear of “What would our friends think??”
It didn’t matter, anyways, since we both had a blast. Word to the wise – waiting for the shuttle is NOT worth it. Brian and I thought we’d be worldly natives and take BART to the fair, which was in Daly City (for the most part, it’s prohibitively far to use public transport to get there; luckily the fair was sponsoring a shuttle from the nearest BART station to the fairground). That and we didn’t particularly feel like paying for parking.
Turns out, the shuttle line was SO long, and the shuttle came so infrequently, that we would have had to wait another 40 minutes after the 40 minute BART ride to even get to the fair! At that point, we valued the time we had left to spend at the fair more than we valued how much it would cost to be at the fair immediately, so we unanimously decided to call a Lyft. The Lyft ended up costing $10, which was the same price as parking 😦 So we might as well have driven (in fact, if you factor in the cost of the BART tickets, the transportation cost was more than the cost of driving!).
Luckily, we had prepurchased our tickets, so we didn’t have to waste any more time once we got to the fairgrounds. On entry to the cavernous hall that held the Great Dickens Fair, we were greeted with this:
It was like we had been transported back into Victorian London! It was absolutely, magnificently, splendidly quaint, and I stood with my mouth agape, marveling at the transformation. Much to my surprise, at least half of the guests were actually dressed in period costume, and playing their part in bringing Victorian London to life! I immediately wished I had at least one more corset and 3 more petticoats on.
Of course, we bee-lined to a bar, where adorably old-timey bartenders served us old-timey drinks – I ordered a mulled wine, and Brian a spiked eggnog. The lovely woman who served us spoke with a heavy British accent, and she even called Brian, “love!”
Right by the entrance, there was a great stage from which we heard ample cheering and stomping. I’m a big fan of social dances, so I immediately dragged Brian over. There, we learned to waltz, polka, and a variety of other dances that had us swinging in circles with the other couples on the dance floor. My favorite by far was a soldier’s dance that required us to progress from couple to couple, twirling each other’s dance partners around. The entire time, I fancied myself a lady in Pride and Prejudice, curtsying elegantly to each couple and joining them for a dance.
I had made the mistake of wearing heels, so very quickly my feet were too tired to keep up the skipping. So we made for the stalls instead, where they sold a variety of goods – woolen toys, stained glass, Victorian garments, and do-it-yourself fairy garden kits.
Other stalls had artisans sketching portraits, or exhibitions such as the ‘Inventions’ booth, which boasted various ‘Electricity’ machines. Everyone was so perfectly in character, particularly the blacksmith who manned the Inventions booth.
Ever a fan of stages, I immediately found the Silk Road Stage, halfway through a production of the Mistletoe Mummers’ Midwinter Merriment. This show was pretty much a parody play about a theater troupe, trying to perform the various works of Shakespear. It was incredibly meta, and incredibly enjoyable.
When the show was over and we had all funneled out of the theater, we stumbled upon two gentlemen in an altercation (i.e. about to throw down). I actually didn’t realize it was staged until a little ways into their performance.
We slowly wound our way to the back corner of the fair, where the children’s attractions were. One thing on the programme in particular caught my eye – a Punch and Judy show! I had just read Gone Girl, which makes a brief reference to Punch and Judy, so I was very intrigued as to what the real show was like.
It was about as mean as I expected it to be, from what I had gathered from Gone Girl. I’m amazed that it’s supposed to be a children’s puppet show, with the amount of violence it had…
And then it was time for food! There was a tea house in the same area as Punch and Judy, and it was serving High Tea!! High Tea seemed like such a romantic idea, especially in the setting we were in, that it seemed like an absolute must-do. Little did we know, it had been booked out for hours.
On to the alternatives! I’d read so many things about meat pies in Harry Potter that I just absolutely had to try one.
It was okay.
But I guess it’s fair food, and there’s some invisible grease ceiling of deliciousness that no fair food is allowed to cross. I can say that at least, now I know what a meat pie is.
We also had fish and chips, which surprisingly Brian really liked, even though he typically avoids all cooked fish (and battered meat).
Our final stop of the day was to watch the Coventry Carolers at the Paddy West Stage at the London Docks. The act before them, which was a foursome of men singing bawdy tavern songs, was riot, and I dearly wished that I had gotten there earlier to listen to more of their set. The Carolers themselves were also an absolute delight to listen to… unfortunately the lady sitting next to me was singing along quite loudly, and for the most part, drowned out the sound of the singers.
I honestly wish I had so much more time to spend at the fair (especially since we went home pretty early, due to my silly, stupid feet). We missed the Saucy French Postcards Tableaux Revue, which was an 18-and-over show that I was pretty excited to see. I also could have easily just sat at any one of the stages and watched every show they had to offer. Or gone dancing the entire 8 hours. You betcha I’ll be back next year!
Tips for Fair-Goers
- This is literally what it is like, but better because you get to actually be there.
- Resist your urge to be a responsible citizen; just suck it up and drive… unless you’re leaving at 8am to make it onto the first shuttle.
- Buttered Rum – get it, it is now literally my favorite thing ever, except maybe mojitos.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- ABSOLUTELY DRESS UP.
- Bring lots of money, because if you’re like me you will want to buy and eat and drink everything. It is not cheap.