Sunday, 9 June 2013

South of England Show 1 - Setting the scene

Every year there is a big Sussex show at Ardingly, half an hour north of home, and although I've lived in Sussex since 1989 I'd never before been to it. But now I've remedied that.

It's called the South of England Show. This year it was held on the 6th, 7th and 8th June, and I went on the first day, which was sunny and warm, absolutely perfect for this extremely popular event. But excellent weather is not really the norm: quite often the Show is spoilt by rain and wind - last year, for instance. It started at nine and finished at six. I got there at ten and left at two, so I had four hours. That was quite enough. The sun was blazing, and by two I felt a vague headache coming on, and so I quit while I was still ahead. But I hadn't seen it all, and on this experience, I'd be very happy to go again sometime, and find many other things to enthrall me.

Mind you, it's very expensive! You do get free parking. But admission for an adult was a whopping £20 this year, although I breezed in on a senior (sixty-plus) concession, and paid a miserly £18.


But just imagine what a group of younger friends might pay between them! Or a family. And there were plenty of families there. Cost was certainly one of the things that stopped M--- and I attending in the past, just as much as the frequently poor weather. To be fair, the entry cost is very reasonable indeed if you are determined to spend the entire day there, and they will give you a free re-entry pass once you have paid, in case you want to break for lunch at home or in a nearby pub, or need to fetch something from the car.

And make no mistake, there were plenty of county types there - the well-off posh folk who live in the countryside - who wouldn't give the admission charge a thought. This was confirmed by the cars queuing to get into the car park when I arrived: it was Range Rover City, believe me. All right, I don't want to exaggerate too much - there was also a fair sprinkling of ordinary chariots - but Fiona was certainly not the only belle of the ball. Nevertheless she held her head high, smiled at the other Volvos, nodded amiably at the more hoity-toity set, and settled down in the sunshine to graze and reflect on life, while I trotted off to the Red Gate, my way in.


As it was a fine day, I was wearing a black short-sleeved top, and a colourful long skirt with black leggings beneath it. Plus of course the orange Florence bag. No jacket or cardigan. The little Leica was in my hand nearly all the time. There was a lot worth shooting!

Even though I came early, the Show site was filling up fast with people and things going on. It's a vast permanent site with proper buildings (some of them luxuriously-appointed) plus some temporary tents and installations to cater for the visiting animals. Look at this map:


I began at the top right-hand corner of the map, and went around anti-clockwise, seeing as much as I could, but inevitably missing all kinds of stuff tucked away off the main avenues, such as the poultry, the bees, and the horse rings. My prime objective was to see the animal shows, especially the cattle and sheep, and to watch some of the horse jumping and other events. Very much the sort of thing you'd look for at a regional agricultural show. But I expected to find also plenty of stalls selling anything at all connected with country life - horse tack, dog leads, county clothing, society membership, upmarket fashion, jewellery, crafts, garden accessories, garden plants, spa bars and hot tubs, cars, tractors, and of course all kinds of food and drink. I wasn't disappointed!

I badly wanted a couple of shots of myself with all this in the background, and was caught aiming the Leica selfwards at arm's length by a natty gent in a striped blue blazer, cravat, white flannel trousers, and white panama hat. (His wife was more soberly dressed) Said he to me: 'Don't you think it's a very odd thing to do, to take pictures of yourself?' I explained that I was attempting to get a shot with the Flower Show marquee in the background, as a souvenir. 'Oh, that's all right then,' he exclaimed, and his wife smiled too, and he ended up taking quite a good picture of me with my camera:


Naturally, I thanked him profusely, although I said 'Silly old sausage' under my breath as I walked on.

There were old bearded gentlemen everywhere - some of them frankly grizzled, half-mad old geezers - playing music or demonstrating some ancient country craft. Here's one, in a black bowler - a hat which seemed to signify either 'genuine old time country craftsman' or 'rollicking character who has attended the University of Life' or, if smarter, 'cattle judge':


By eleven the place was heaving with people. I'd checked out some of the food tents and craft stalls and had spotted a necklace that saw me coming and cried 'Lucy! Buy me!' I promised it that I would return. I meant to come back anyway, because the stall owners, a mother and daughter, were so pleasant, and we'd all been to Florence and loved the place, and we'd sort of bonded. 

Towards midday, after seeing the cattle and sheep and pigs and goats and horse jumping, and the posh cars on sale, it dawned on me that I was ravenously hungry. I was minded not to spend a lot. A board outside one of the huge food tents promised a 'well-filled bacon bap for £3' within. In I went, like a vixen after a rabbit, secured one of the said baps, and found a private sunny spot behind the Retired Greyhound Society's stand. Well, there was no way I was going to wolf a big bap full of bacon in public view! One has one's dignity, after all. I have to say that it was well-filled, and with delicious bacon, but definitely a tricky proposition to eat while strolling about:


Yum! Now well-filled myself, I went to the loo (they are in proper buildings on the Show site, and rather well-appointed, although I had a laughing exchange with a woman at the hard-to-activate hot-air hand-driers, which treated us as if we didn't exist) and managed to retrace my steps back to the stall where the necklace still languished, hoping for my return. It glowed when it saw me, and strained at its leash, yelping. I tried it on. Lovely. I was fascinated at the way its large stones caught and transformed the ambient light. How much, I asked the daughter. £28. That seemed just right. It was a deal. I couldn't wait to try it on again back home, and wear it out, and see what my friends thought.

What next? Definitely a drink. Not alcohol, though. In search of something suitable, I found myself at the Volvo car display. All their best models, with staff to explain the cars to you. One of them was an attractive girl and we got chatting. She reminded me strongly of T---, who cleans for me, the same petite dark slimness. She was keen to know about Fiona, and admired my new necklace. We discussed Volvos and somehow got on to the gull-wing doored DeLorean and agreed that for style it still cut the mustard. But I became dry-throated with all the talk, and had to ask her if she knew where I might get some chilled orange juice, which is what I really had in mind. 'Come with me,' she said, and she led me into their trailer, and treated me to a cup of orange juice from the staff fridge. Oh, that hit the spot, I can tell you. We chatted a bit more. She wasn't actually from one of Volvo's local dealerships, but was freelance, her job being to sell cars at events like the Show for any maker. Next week it might be Kia, the week after that Jaguar. She said she had to cheat a bit, by keeping a crib sheet in her pocket - on this week's, a printed list of all Volvo's current models and their specifications! I asked if anyone could make a career out of doing shows like this. 'Well, I can,' she assured me, although she went on to say that she also drove for various maker's sports teams. It sounded a highly varied and interesting life, and I admired her greatly. But not wanting to overstay the hospitality, I thanked her profusely and left just as two potential customers arrived.

I wandered over to where, in the central arena, there was a big crowd of spectators and a lot of motor bike noise. It was a classy stunt bike display - more on that in a future post.

In fact I'll have to tackle the Show in sections. No other way. So more to come!

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