It is no secret in these parts that yours truly loves a good Show. I caught the bug relatively early, considering the fact that I grew up in an inner city environment. My first exposure was when I was 10, when I had my first competitor experience in the cut and thrust of the Victoria Sandwich class.
By this time we had left our childhood home of Northern Grit and landed in the leafy pastures of West Sussex. Real W.I. country. I confess that I had little notion of what was happening and do have some recollection that my cake was made under duress. It was Mother’s idea. I also remember being very cross indeed that I could not enter my own cake. Mum had no matching sandwich tins and one tin was plain, whilst the other was fluted. I made my mixture and baked it, and then my sister did likewise. Mum’s bright idea was to sandwich like cakes together, so each would look better. In her warped line of reasoning – she was always in “twins” mode – it made perfect sense for us to do so. In fact it’s a surprise that she did not have us enter a single sandwich as a Twins unit, rather than one each as individuals.
Now, those judges know their business in that part of the world and there was nothing arbitrary about the judging – both cakes were awarded equal points and came joint First in their class. I was umpty about it because I knew that I was a far better cook than my sister and could have wiped her cake into obscurity had I my own complete cake to offer. Perhaps that is it, maybe Mum preferred that one twin not outdo the other. We were always required to fit the one mould… never one of us (always me!) to step out of line or be an obvious individual.
Whoops. This was not meant to be a moaning post – sorry I got diverted. Anyway, there it was – my first entry, my first success and the heady aroma of the cake tent firmly fixed in my psyche thereafter.
Moving on a couple of years and we were now living on a mixed farm, with prize-winning dairy herd, in Berkshire. I loved the cows and worked with them before and after school and in the weekends and holidays. I spent every moment with them that I could and when two new heifer calves came into the herd, I made one of them my “own”. We were close and she would do anything I asked of her, would even let me ride on her back when she was grown. It was natural for the Herdsman to ask me to take her into the ring at the Show – and so I had my first taste of the Agricultural Show… earning a red rosette in the process. Quite right too – there were many hours of preparation and beautification went into that prize. My heifer looked fabulous by the time that we got into the ring. It broke my heart to leave her when we moved again…
… this time to shooting country and the delights of the Game Fair. Quite good, but definitely not on a par with a County Agricultural Show.
I’ve never lost my love of these country events nor ever failed to appreciate the importance of them both economically and traditionally. On the Agricultural side, a good win builds reputation and can make a big difference in later Mart prices. The Industrial side also builds reputation! Oh, yes, there are some formidable competitors out there… but the part that it plays in keeping country skills alive cannot be over-estimated. It’s all fascinating to observe and a wander round a good Show will be a pleasure – but I believe that it is important to participate and not to simply regard it as a side show and a good day out. Every Show should have an abundance of entries, a cornucopia of goodies to delight the eye. Of course, those hard-won reputations need to be challenged by the upstart entrant too – keep everybody on their toes and the standards up!
My ex-husband’s family came from Weardale and although we did not live there, we supported the Annual Show by attending and made a few entries. In my first year I took the important Chutney class – “There’ll be trouble,” he said “there’ll be rumblings…” He was smiling though when he said that it would not go down well, an outsider winning a special prize. The truth is that these occasions are happy ones that bring out the best in most people and we are all there to have a good time. So you didn’t win your class? You’ll try harder next year but in the meantime you’ll heartily congratulate your neighbour who did. Maybe ask what her secret ingredient is? She may even tell you, but that’s unlikely.
You go home, you practise your skills and hope to do better next year, saying all the time that it’s not the winning that’s important. And it isn’t – getting placed is nice and gives a warm glow, I’d be lying if I said any different and it is always good to have others think well of one’s work but it doesn’t matter who wins in the end and it’s likely to be so highly contested that there is but a hair’s-breadth between placings. The important thing though is that practising, that keeping life in the skills, the constant improvement and inspiring others to learn them when they see the magnificent entries on the Show bench. That and having a good time, meeting friends and sharing the experience.
Some (my ex springs to mind) would say that it’s the beer tent that is important but I think I have that covered in the above paragraph.
So, this is all a very long-winded way of saying that we delivered my (27!) entries last night (more on this in the next post) and although the weather was unpleasant, with a heavy “mizzle” going on, everybody had a smile on their face. The place was heaving: there were bodies out in the wet on the field setting up pens and tents; there were people creating a café in the community room; the Secretary and an array of busy Stewards receiving the entries and setting them out; and a constant stream of adults and children bearing cakes and preserves and vegetables and knitting and artwork… every single one of them grinning and laughing and calling out to each other. It’s a real community event that brings everybody out and together and I find it joyous and uplifting. I particularly love to see the children taking part with such enthusiasm and hope to see them in a few years’ time, beating my entries into a cocked hat in the Adult classes. (I confess that I have already been instrumental in teaching some of them to knit and to spin.)
There is no way that I would not be part of the Sanday Show in some way or other.