The County Set

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.

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52 thoughts on “The County Set

  1. We just had our Fall Fair as well this weekend. People come from far and wide – meaning many non-islanders. The island roads within 2 miles in all directions are packed with parked cars. The crowds are such that I give up in frustration over not being able to see who won which prize. Unless I become wicked, I cannot see the photography display in any comfortable and free manner. It’s just silly.

    Sometimes I go to the Livestock barns for some sanity! 🙂

    But the folks helping out may be the retired commissioner of the Hong Kong police. My doctor is one of the pipers marching through the grounds during opening ceremonies. One of Canada’s well known musicians performs on an open stage while the audience sits on hay bales.

    The most popular booth? The pie ladies. The island women bake so many pies and every year, the demand is even more. Oh, but they are delicious!

    And this year, an added feature: The Antiques Road Show. I decided my old cameo likely hasn’t jumped up in price by too much. I stayed home with a good cuppa while friends pushed through the milieu and madly posted photos on Face Book.

  2. Next year, buy yourself a Barbour, put on some wellies and a big hat. This year was your induction, next year you can mingle with the crowds and do some proper people watching. You will be able to follow and eavesdrop, I can’t imagine how many blog posts might result. It isn’t so much a question of ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ as ‘if you can’t beat ’em, make the most of it’ 🙂 . I’ve done a few, but thankfully not for some time. (You might even find yourself haggling for tickets for Badminton or Burley)

  3. Living in the Lowcountry of Charleston, SC, we have amazing people watching opportunities. There are academics, country future farmers, rednecks, artsy, retirees, students, foodies, young professionals, bar swingers…oh my, so many to try to name. While there isn’t a specific “uniform” designating which pack one belongs to, it is interesting how easy it is to tell the groups apart.

  4. I know you had Phil’s face carved into a piece of tree as an ornament for the garden, right?

    We have county fairs and state fairs in the States. It’s always a mix of local flavor. My sister-in-law Lynn won a ribbon for her cross stitch at the Wisconsin State Fair last year. I’ve never seen ferrets at one.

    And, I agree with Fiona. Which hat?

  5. Oh, Kate, what a wonderful post to feast on as I try to catch up on blogs now that I am home. Your pictures are wonderful! Your words capture your adventure, which reminds me of county and state fairs here in the States. The Illinois State Fair always has a cow (or some such thing) carved out of butter! I kid you not.

      1. Kate, I posted a photo of a butter cow jumping over the moon at the (2008) New York State Fair “Summer’s Last Hurrah, the Fair.” It also included the dish and the spoon … from the nursery rhyme.

      2. Ah, but you’ve not, Kate! Here in Indiana, as in Illinois, there are certainly the annual county and state fairs; however, LaGrange has what I believe to be the ONLY Corn School: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_School. If I attend this year, I’ll try to remember to take a camera. My efforts along those lines certainly could not compete with yours, but it might be fun to see what I can come up with! We shall see. 🙂

  6. I love county fairs, Kate. They are sometimes otherworldly to me, too, but I do have a good time. We were intending to visit the Los Angeles County Fair this weekend, a huge event, but when our weather turned the region into an inferno, that seemed an ill-advised goal! No one in Southern California has the same sense of style, and weather or not, no tweeds! I think next year when we attend I will take photos of the dress, body art and piercings. You’ll never once covet our weather after that! Debra

  7. Dear Kate, thank you for the photographs. They helped me remember, fondly, the Washington County Fair I attended each year when I lived in Stillwater, Minnesota. I like going where life differs from what I know.

    The thing for me is that I mostly live in my head and most of my friends are of the same ilk. We discuss politics and religion, spirituality and history and the pressing problems of the times. And most of them are Democrats.

    So I’m truly somewhat insular. And I’ve never thought that was a good thing for a
    person who believes in Oneness.

    I learned a lot when I became an election judge fifteen years ago. According to law I was to sit between two Republicans as I did this job so that there would be no miscarriage of the voting rights. The judges are told that they are not to discuss politics while serving as a judge. So there I sat with Republicans–and I’d never really known any. And we talked of so many things and I realized–to my surprise–that we shared more similarities than differences. It was a lesson in Oneness. As was seeing the following posting on a photographer’s blog the other day. Peace.
    http://stevemccurry.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/know-who-you-are/?blogsub=confirming#subscribe-blog

    1. Seriously, Tom, there’s a man in our neck of the woods will talk to you for literally hours on end about hedges and their different characters in each county. I think I may have spotted a Lincolnshire one…

  8. So, just why was the vicar so frosty? Loved your story and photos, Kate.

    Your fair offers a variety of attractions. That’s what I loved about the New York State Fair when we lived near Syracuse. The food tents, midway attractions and the farm animals were my favorite stops.

  9. I’m with Tom in that I’m also wondering about the miniature hedges. Are these fine folks related to the geniuses in Spinal Tap that re-created Stonehenge in miniature? There’s something alternate Shrewsday universe about this county show Kate that I find rather amusing. That vicar must have been onto you.

  10. I love the fantasy feeling of this adventure. Ferret races sound interesting. I once went to a duck, goose, pig, chicken race. It was a laugh a minute.

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