Glendale. Some people wait all year for the right agriculture show to come around. Ok, they may flirt a little with another agriculture show but when you know you have found the agriculture show for you, a strange peace steals over you, that hard coiled part of you relaxes, thinks: "Perhaps this is how life is, should be, will be forever."
Alternatively, we have just lived here too long. We arrived early, as we settled by the main ring to eat bacon sandwiches and watch the horse jumping, I thought: "Oh good, horses to watch". Events here are a little like wallpaper; you glance up and there is a horse. I have never looked that closely, maybe it is wallpaper. But it moves; maybe that is the water though. Anyway, they had the moving wallpaper trick going while we ate the bacon sandwiches and I gasped when a stray hoof knocked off a pole. My husband said: "I think you are going native." I said: "I don't think so. Make sure we are back in time for the hounds. They are on at three." He muttered something. I did not ask him to repeat it.
Courtesy of foot and mouth, there were no cattle, sheep or goats. I missed them. I hope they missed me. Sign of the times there was a "chief livestock and biosecurity steward". Presumably he has links with the United Nations.
Without beasts, I had to find comfort in the horticultural and industrial tent. In the vast marquee were baked products, flowers and the fruit and veg of entrants striving for unnatural glory. Some onions the size of a three-year-old's head; cabbages the size of a 10-year-old's. Some leeks were as long as an arm; some spilled over the table and reached for the floor. When I was a trainee reporter, I covered a leek show. A man who was languishing in a coma won first prize. He was in the local hospital after being knocked down by a car late one night. As he lay ill and all unknowing, never likely to recover, his twin brother carefully tended his leeks, watering them, feeding them, talking to them. The mother was old and frail. She visited her lost son every day, sat by him, held his hand. She was there when they announced he had won first place with his leeks. Tribute to a brother's tender love. I remember she cried.
One of my favorites yesterday were the competitive potatoes. Without wishing to malign the potatoes, I could see very little difference between them. Perhaps the winner had a little more muscle tone. It was also a very slow race, I stood there for some considerable period of time and I could hardly see them moving. It must have been a relay though because they were in teams of four. No team dropped a baton.
The competitive ethic was everywhere. Potatoes, cabbage growers, horses in fancy dress. I was slightly disappointed because there had been talk of me judging the horse fancy dress competition but when I arrived, someone else was down to judge it. I had been practising shaking the children's hands for the past fortnight, looking them straight in the eye and saying: "Well done. Jolly good effort," which was slightly confusing for them at tea time or indeed when they got up on a morning. But in a way, I was relieved because I was not sure which hoof I should shake when it came to the horse. Did you perhaps shake all of them? Or more if it was a male horse?
The fact that I once thought that I might judge the fancy dress meant I sat and watched it with a particular interest. Two horses came as walls. That is to say they were covered in brick painted sheets. On one wall a little humpty dumpty sat with two King's Men in bearskins riding behind him. A woman next to me muttered: "I'm sure Humpty Dumpty comes out every year." I thought that harsh but as I say, they are very competitive up here. Even the potatoes. The other wall came as Hadrian's Wall complete with a Roman soldier in a red tunic and helmet. Other Roman soldiers followed on horseback and two little Romans in togas tried to keep up behind them. Needless to say the Roman "man" had to pull a reluctant Roman woman behind him. She was probably saying: "But Gluteus, I like Londinium." The audience liked the little Romans and their horses. They love Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland. I have found when there is a pause in the conversation, if you say: "So, that's a hell of a wall, you've got up here," it gets you quite a long way. That and: "So, do you ride?" If all else fails: "So, do you farm around here?" Aside from Hadrian's Wall, there was a Teddy Bear's picnic, lots of children dressed as teddy bears, some poor bear girl pushing a bear baby in a buggy round and round the main ring that will probably put her off motherhood for life. The horse was dressed as a picnic blanket.
Hadrian's Wall won which was a safe choice but you had to give full marks to the parents who blacked up their children. Blacked up their children. Just one more time. Blacked up their children. I watched the cavalcade across the field as they walked on. A rider in a black hooded cloak, another with a Arabian scarf wrapped around part of his face. Each rider pulled along a blacked up child; one wearing a large black Afro wig, the other a black Mohican with a ponytail. I said: "Oh my God," as they came by. "Are those children pretending to be black?" At that moment, one of the children raised a placard with the words: "The Abolition of Slavery, 1807." So that was a "Yes" then. Full marks to parents who attempt to be political at an agricultural show. I would have made them my winners for sheer effrontery. On the other hand, cor blimey. Cor blimey. I did see one black person at the show. Black black. I presume. (Unless he was their dad and had blacked himself up for the occasion.) I wondered whether he was watching and how he would feel. If he would think: "Well, it's a good cause. They've got their hearts in the right place." Or: "I think we should go now." I nudged my husband as the slave trade came by. I said: "What you said earlier...I don't think that's true."