Thomas tells of the fair’s many attractions: tiny ponies, intelligent fleas, the coconut shy and the boxing booth. Among these many attractions is the “Fattest Woman in the World”. Thomas makes fun of her in the story in several ways. He depicts her sitting “in her tent” but at the same time she is also enveloped in her “rolls of flesh”. This provides the reader with an immediate impression of the extent of her girth.
It is summer, but the woman is “sewing her winter frock”, as if to say that her dress is so large that it will take her all summer to mend it! Thomas immediately enlarges on this by describing the dress as “another tent”, meaning that the dress is as large as the tent the woman sits in. It is also interesting that Thomas describes the woman’s attributes in terms of food: her eyes are “little” and are like “blackcurrants in blancmange”. It is as if the woman has begun to look like the ingredients that have made her fat: the little blackcurrant eyes lost in the sea of blancmange, palely wobbling. Thomas leaves us with a last indication of her size. She is so fat that she sees other people as “skeletons”, who file past her to satisfy they voyeuristic curiosity.Order now
Another of the many attractions of the funfair that Thomas comments on is the boxing booth, with its old pug standing ready to take on all comers, (lines 39-45). The description of the man tells the reader that he is both very tough, and very ugly. He is “bitten-eared and barndoor-chested”, and has “a nose like a twisted suede”. These images suggested that the man is huge, and has been through so many bouts, that he has been scarred: his ears are deformed and he has had his nose broken too many times. He only has “three teeth yellow as a camel’s”, and this further induces the reader to assume that he has been in so many fights, that he has lost all his teeth.
Thomas draws attention to this detail by describing their colour, and likening the teeth to those of a camel, thus using more animal imagery to underline how hideous the pug’s teeth are. Men are described as “strutting” in to the boxing booth, but “reeling” as they come out of it, (line 44). The first word indicates the cocky confidence of the challengers, whereas the second word leads the reader to assume that they are punch-drunk, and have therefore been soundly beaten by the pug. Thomas reprises the image of the teeth at the end of his description of the old pug’s activities, perhaps to show us that, although the man has been fighting all evening, he still has his three teeth left: a further indication of his toughness, as is the fact that he looks “bored” by his evening’s work.
The final two paragraphs (lines 57-66) describe the boys’ last glimpse of the fair, and then their weary climb up the hill towards home. The first paragraph is full of noise and movement. It is almost as if Thomas saves his most chaotic and frenzied depiction of the fair for this moment, and this perhaps also reflects the feelings of the boys: their regret at having to leave all this fascinating activity. Thomas once more appeals to, and indeed overloads, the reader’s senses in his description of the fair. There are references to movement: the night is “hot” and “bubbling”, an indication of heat and pullulating activity; swing-boats swim “to and fro” and are “like slices of the moon”; a suggestion that they swing high into the sky, so as to perhaps cut across the moon; and “roundabout riders” gallop furiously.
There are references to sound: the hurdy-gurdy with its music and the movement of the man cranking the handle; the mythical animals on the prow of the gondolas “breathing fire and Sousa” – another image that conveys heat and loud music; and the image of the riders giving their hunting cries and “hallooing” as they go round, creates another layer of clamour and bustle. Finally, there are references to light and colour: the moon is “sand-yellow”, and so large that it seems as if the man with the hurdy-gurdy is actually in the moon; the dragons and hippogriffs breathe fire; the riders gallop under “fairy-lights”, an indication of the enchanted feeling of the place; there are more references to huntsmen, which the reader imagines wearing their bright red coats; zebras with their gaudy striped coats are mentioned, as are magical glow-worms.
The final paragraph (lines 63-66), is much slower in pace, more muted in tone and Thomas’ use of specific words is effective in indicating that the evening has come to an end, and stillness is about to descend on the whole scene. The boys “climb” towards home, which indicates a slow walk up a hill. The hill itself is “gas-lit”, and the reader envisages that the light is hazier and more subdued than the garish light of the fair.
The homes are “still” and the bay below is “mumbling”, a suggestion that sounds are also subdued and far-away. Thomas continues with this impression when he says that the music “dies” and the voices “drift like sand”, a final reminder of the seaside, as he draws the riotous day to close. The final image is that of the fair closing, and the boys observe the lights in the caravans of the fair workers being lit, as they too retire. The lights are, once again, far away, as tiny points of brightness in the still, silent night.
Throughout “Holiday Memory”, Thomas employs something unexpected and surprising in terms of language use: he blurs the line between poetry and prose. His startling and amusing similes, his construction of compound words, narrative leaps and juxtaposition of often odd, jolting and surprising images capture the reader’s emotions and imagination equally, and Thomas almost bewilders the reader into entering his world. His poetic style, lyrical, sensual, passionate and often rhapsodic, conveys a sense of specific time and place. The vivid images that appeal to so many of our senses bring the reader back to the sunny idyll of childhood, amidst the clamour of the fair, with our pennies burning holes in our pockets.