THEY call her Nana Hotdog!
Despite her petite size she is quite definitely the matriarch of the Hercher family – the furthest north-based show people in Britain.
Based in Invergordon, the Herchers are once again back in Caithness – a sure sign summer has come. Nowadays they are officially termed fairground operators but, as Nana Hotdog’s son James points out, his grandfather Charlie Hercher was the first showman to come to Wick.
The family have maintained that tradition for over 100 years. And Nana Hotdog, let’s give her proper name, Margot, has just celebrated 60 years on the road.
Actually she’s a born Wicker and was married to her late husband Charlie Hercher in the Bon Accord Hotel (now Harrold the butchers in Wick’s High Street) in 1952. Her own father’s dance band, the Sandy Matheson Variety Band, played at their wedding.
Sadly, Charlie died 32 years ago. But a unique way of life on the road has continued. And far from being alone, Margot is surrounded by her huge family, including sons James and Alec, daughters Caroline and Rosemary and 24 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren who are never far away.
I had the pleasure of meeting some of them this week at Wick riverside.
I learned how originally they had come from circus stock; being descendants of the Biddal and Freeman families. One of the family grannies was a bareback horse rider. Now they are the fifth generation of Herchers on the road.
Their annual itinerary takes them around the country visiting numerous agricultural shows, Highland games and county fairs. In more recent times they attended music festivals, bringing their special brand of entertainment.
We met in James Hercher’s caravan trailer pitched on the same site the family have claimed for generations. It was a chance to meet various generations of family members, from toddlers through the young folk to, how shall we say, the more mature members of the dynasty.
And there was a surprise presentation of a cake to Margot, decorated with a scale model of the Hercher show wagons and Nana’s signature burgers. Although she very much takes a back seat now, the family are all there to muck in and take their turns running their various fairground attractions.
Mark runs the Twister, Jamie the Waltzer, James the Miami Ride, Elaine the snack bar and Amalie wherever help is most needed. Kayren, whenever she can get time off from her day job in Inverness, is only too willing to help out – just like the old days.
THEY’VE come a long way in every sense, although no-one can guess how many thousands of miles they must have clocked up down the years.
They share memories of the early “tilts” (canvas-covered stalls). It was like a trip down memory lane hearing about the goldfish stall, the shooter gallery, the swing boats and chair-o-planes. It had me remembering how fairground music always sounds the best, how it captures so many childhood associations and experiences.
So while they may spend the winter in their homes in Invergordon, their year is spoken for. There’s the Hogmanay party in Tain and trips to Fraserburgh and Peterhead. Some of them even travel to Glasgow. And now they are this far north there will be a ferry to catch to the Orkney Show and, later, one to Stornoway for their carnival.
The Herchers are full of good banter. The crack, as they say, is good.
I found myself admiring their close family ties. Yet for all the bluff and bluster there is a real quiet respect for Nana Hotdog.
They have a strong sense of community. It got me thinking how much service they have given to our own community in this tired old royal burgh at the end of the road.
I must be getting old, I thought to myself, before realising, with a sense of joy, that I can relive my childhood all over again – only this time through the shared experiences with my granddaughter Rhea who, at just 17 months, is about to help me try out all those fairground rides.
Remember your first sideshow candy floss, toffee apple, burger? Think of all the stalls and rides and exhilarating experiences. They were all part of our growing up – thanks to the Herchers and the other showground families, like the Wallises, who join them on the road.
So, make the most of their time here. They are part of our summer. And it’s never too late!
I know Rhea and I will be in the thick of it. I’ll be the guy with the hotdog!