‘Tis the best time of the year. The time when you are encouraged to show off, get your hands dirty, make stuff for people, buy other people’s stuff, and eat suspect sausages on sticks drowned in tomato sauce. Bringing them back up after the Ferris wheel ride is an optional extra.
It’s showtime. You can see the best of everything on a plate, in a pavilion, on a horse and, of course, in a showbag.
You know showbags – the new home for old products that the makers couldn’t sell earlier. Ironically, the first showbags surfaced so makers could show off their new products. How times have changed. Bob Dylan could write a song about it.
For baby journalists, covering the local agricultural show was about as easy as teaching a cow dressage.
In the olden pre-computer days, editors would send the baby journalists to the show to “get the results”. They usually didn’t elaborate any further, except to say “all of them, or else”. The “or else”, it turned out, were the STEWARDS. They get capital letters because they were upper case sort of folk and seriously scary. If you didn’t report the results correctly, you’d have them to deal with. Didn’t matter that the stewards’ handwriting was usually illegible, you had to get it right. It was almost a jailable offence to misspell the name of someone who won something at a show.
I remember being quite excited at being sent to cover my first show. Had I had a hat I would have perched a pencil in it to look the part, walking in smoking a cigarette. I did the cigarette part, only to be kicked out. If I had known where I was going to stay put for what seemed like a lifetime, I would have kept a fag permanently hanging from my mouth so I’d never have to go in there again.
The room where I had to record all the results was about the size of a goat shed. In retrospect, I think it was a goat shed. It certainly smelled like one.
Totally airless, fitted out with an old wooden table which had the word ‘help’ carved into it, and a chair that had trouble relating to the floor. The table was papered in, well, other bits of paper, all in an illegible hand. The papers were supposed to list who won what where and when. Heaven help you if “best lamingtons on a plate” was reported as “most innovative vegetable” or vice versa.
Sure the cookery section was well contested and, although no biffo was sighted during any of my show visits, there were rumours. But the real competition bubbled over when it came to the home-brew section. Someone is still frothing at the mouth, still bitter over best bitter. I think that was back at the Gunning Show a few lifetimes ago. It’s an event I’ll never forget because it’s where I had one of those prized moments.
It involved a butternut pumpkin and not a lot of other entries. The pumpkin was my pride and joy, my baby. I’d grown it from seed, nurtured it – well watered it when I remembered – and it did me proud. Grew to the size of a, well, pumpkin. And even looked like a bought one. I couldn’t have been prouder had it burped at me. I’d entered it in the vegetable section, ignoring the monster butternut already sitting on the judges’ table – if pumpkins could smirk ….
After the judging, I went back into the pavilion. There was my pumpkin with a Second Prize card placed against it. Second prize, I told everyone within a 10km radius. Where was the marching band, the mayor with chains, the autograph hunters? Apparently, there’s none of that when you come second in a class with only two entries. Who knew?