There is a group of people whose lifestyle is the polar opposite of mine: as far removed from my ken as it is possible to be.
And I leave it that way, mostly. Until my husband gets free tickets for The County Show.
How to describe this to people who do not know it? I am sure there are state shows and county shows the world over. They seem to have begun here around the same time the National Farmers’ Union had its inception here in England, in the early days of the twentieth century.
They are what one might expect: places to exhibit livestock; niche markets; places for competitions, and to park a funfair.
It sounds so innocuous, doesn’t it?
So how on earth do I account for the strange experience I had today, at Berkshire’s county show?
As we trailed to the entrance, the people who passed us were of a very distinct character.
They sported tweed suits and caps and an air which said that if one used too long a word one would receive very short shrift indeed.
We collected our tickets from a kind stallholder friend and wound past the turnstiles and into another world.
We were greeted by a working thresher: a machine which takes stooks of wheat and separates the grain from the rest. The men operating it looked like extras on a film set. The youngsters were fantasy material, the older chaps seasoned codgers. I gawped unattractively before remembering that perhaps my offspring might benefit from knowing what the thresher did. Get with the programme, Mary Poppins.
And then we dived into the strangest mix of activities I have ever encountered.
Past the Dog Training For Fun and the Snakes and Reptiles tent (perilously close together; who would end up inside who?) was the Very Small Hedges display in which H.E.D.G.E (please don’t ask) had created the characteristic style of hedge for different parts of the UK. In miniature.
Dazed after a surreal comparison of Yorkshire and Lancashire hedging tecniques, I ploughed on to the pole climbing competition, where a British Telecoms Engineer was challenging a forester to climb two extremely high telegraph poles. Mine not to reason why: I glanced wildly around for distraction and was met by the Midland Bernese Carters, a series of doe-eyed Swiss mountain dogs from Birmingham whose ancestors used to pull little carts full of milk churns down from the Swiss mountains in days of yore.
This did not help enormously to anchor me back in reality.
The people, the people: next to me were a set of young men in Barbers and women in tweeds, but the women looked like casino croupiers with huge hairdos and Elizabeth Taylor make up and the boys talked with Berkshire burrs.
Phil nudged me and whispered sideways. “They’re from Lambourn- you know, the town where horse racing culture is so embedded that even the roughest dress in tweed…”
It was a strange sight. A cross between Princess Anne and Diana Dors.
I shook off the strange reverie. Somewhere here: somewhere must be something completely normal.
Ah, yes. There it was. The Freemasonry in the Community stand. Which looked a lot like a portable hot dog stand except that it had a small exhibition and a hard line clergyman outside.
No: that didn’t help.
I caught the vicar at the horse-shoeing stand. “Wonderful, isn’t it?” I beamed conversationally; and the vicar glared at me with censure. Never had my words fallen on quite such stoney ground. I gulped and made a mental note to research handshakes.
An hour, several fairground rides and a trip to the Royal Mint mobile exhibition later I was bemused beyond belief. I took myself off to the ferret racing for respite: and shortly later we wove past the falconry and the sheep, pigs and small livestock on the trail back to the car park and home.
Incredulity and tweeds: a most unsettling combination.