The Agricultural Show
Walking for pleasure is one thing, walking because you have to is another, but in between the two comes walking round an agricultural show. This of course, is purely self-imposed and must surely be classed as walking for pleasure, for the majority who attend do so without thought of executing any business. Yet the final effect at the end of the day is the same as if one had been ordered on a route march across the Sinai Desert. With swollen feet and aching backs the hosts disperse towards evening and flop lifelessly into their cars, their faces and neck still sizzling from the heat of the day. Of course some shows are ill-fated with regard to the weather while others have not known a wet day for perhaps a quarter of a century, but on the whole, the shows fare well, the majority being held between the months of June and August. This however is rather an unfortunate time to hold a show for it is normally a hectic time of the farm, what with mowing, baling and stacking hay. It is even more unfortunate if a tractor laden with a couple of tons of hay (and it usually is at times like this) breaks down in the middle of a field, for an urgent call to the local agricultural engineers will receive the reply – “I’m sorry sir, but all the mechanics are at the show.”
Although each being in this world is an individual, the milling mass at an agricultural show can be divided into four main groups and if the truth were known there is to me, as much delight in studying the people as in studying the latest advances in agricultural technology. (Taking this one stage further, I wonder how often it is I who have been the object of study).
I do not however include in these groups competitors for the equestrian events, for they and their retinues are a species apart and one could devote a sizeable volume to them alone. Neither do I include the wide-eyed children who dart here, there and everywhere, sucking ice creams and soggy hot dogs, climbing onto tractors and falling into milk churns. The first of the groups is the ‘immaculate’ group. It is the bowler-deer-stalker hatted group that walks with militant step and serious face and prods at little pieces of paper with its shooting sticks. The majority of this group have dangling from their lapels little cardboard discs with ‘Official’, ‘Judge’ or ‘Member’ stamped upon it in gold, and includes the ‘upper crust’, the gentleman farmer and the estate owner. They wear either a bow tie or a club tie or maybe an old boy’s school tie.
The next group is that of the working farmer. Here the hats have turned into soft, tweedy trilbies or pork pies. There is a slight roundness of shoulder and the stride is long and loping. The gait appears clumsy, yet after years of striding ploughed fields and climbing stacks, most farmers are as sure footed as mountain goats. A young fourteen year old friend of mine is a supreme example of this. He can skim across a freshly ploughed field like a hare and still keep pace with someone running on the flat. Pipes and old walking sticks are the armaments of this group and are used to challenge, prod and probe new machinery or inspect the rows of tethered beasts waiting to enter the show ring. This group is generally of a suspicious nature, non-committal and not easily swayed by the remarkable time, money and labour saving claims of the mountainous pile of literature thrust eagerly into its hands. At the entrance to the trade stand beams the host. He laughs very easily and his handshake is somewhat violent. “Hello there, wonderful to see you again old boy, come in and have a drink.” They disappear into the dim world of heaving canvass and creaking ropes.
The group that is always well represented at the shows is that of the farm worker. He arrives in his best suit, polished boots and cap, his face can be likened to a bake potato and his smile is broader and more frequent than those of the other groups. Unaccustomed to this mode of dress, it is not long before the tie is removed and the shirt front unbuttoned. Soon the jacket comes off and is stuffed into the shopping bag containing the day’s ‘wittals’. Some even go so far as to remove the cap, though why they should have the desire to do so on this particular day is beyond me, for judging from the pure white band on the upper part of their foreheads, the cap is never removed from one year’s end to the other. He is disgusted at prices in the beer tent, but tolerates this as being one of the prices to be paid for a rare day’s outing with the family. Old acquaintances are renewed more in this group than in the others, for farm workers move around more than farmers. Friendly insults are bandied about and a sly drink is attempted before the womenfolk can find them and drag them off to the Women’s Institute tent.
The final group belongs to those whose only connection with country life is an occasional weekend outing in the car. It consists of those who have farmed only in their dreams or whose children have a strong leaning in that direction. Although their attire is variable, this group can normally be segregated by their complexions. Even those who have communed with the elements for a fortnight whilst on holiday do not achieve the deeply ingrained weathering of the farm worker’s face. It is a purely superficial mask through which the white lines of the brow, furrowed from the unaccustomed glare of the sun, can be detected. Apart from this there is no strong characteristic linking these people together as a group for they all come from different walks of life. Perhaps they walk a little faster than most and do not linger long in any one place, but no matter how disconnected this group is within itself, it can claim one thing in common with the rest and that is, a keen interest in farming or some aspect of country life.
On passing through the gates of a country or agricultural show, I invariably make for the little kiosk which sells the catalogues and on the map therein, I religiously trace out a route between the various avenues. This route is designed to take me round to every trade stand, exhibition and demonstration in the shortest distance, retracing my steps as little as possible. Having completed this task, an outstanding display a little way up the centre avenue catches my eye, so, thrusting the catalogue into my pocket, I decide to see what it’s all about. My curiosity satisfied, I am attracted to a large group of people huddled around a mysterious object on display a little further down the line. By the time I have made the front row, all thoughts of adhering to the route so meticulously worked out, have left me. This happens every time I attend an agricultural show and I invariably end up by walking ten times as far as is necessary. But so what? Most of our lives have too great a proportion of it already ordered for us; there is far too much routine. What matters it if we do cover the same ground twice? One can always discover some fresh point of interest that had been passed by first time round.
read the collected work as it is published: here
field wormhole: Lapping Reflections [Deep Within Waters] – intemperance
life wormhole: everwhile
people wormhole: embodying
walking wormhole: faintly apricot air?