Tuesday, 18 August 2015

It's showtime! (Part deux)

Part Two - The Aftermath

Well I think I’ve kept you in suspense for long enough…. I’m sure you’ve all been losing sleep worrying whether the result was so disastrous that I decided to end it all, or so impressive that I took my winnings and skipped off to Acapulco. The far more ordinary excuse is that we escaped to Scotland for a few days (motorised hen door and automatic greenhouse watering systems duly installed) for a wee holiday. I did in fact take my laptop with me fully expecting dismal weather but the lure of bizarrely sunny days on the beach and some (drastically toned down) drinking in old student haunts meant that it never actually got out of the bag. Right, enough - stop your weecht as the Scots would say…

I am extremely pleased and maybe just a tad smug to inform you that you are now looking at the Broad Bean Champion extraordinaire of the parish. Yes, I only went and did it…. First prize in the broad bean class (novice section *she muttered barely audibly under her breath* - but a win is a win regardless of the category and you’ve got to start somewhere after all). I also took home a second with my six pea pods in a pretty strong field (even if I do say so myself) and a second in the onions (*out of two she mumbled*).  Potatoes – nul point. Ditto the rhubarb but I did commit the rookie mistake of accidentally snapping my potentially prize winning stem en route to the show. Doh.  I came first with my roses, sadly as the only competitor in that class, but it’s not my fault if the other competitors took one look at my stunning entry and backed slowly out of the tent again clearly mortified that their entries were utterly outclassed by mine and therefore not worthy of showing. I felt I was slightly robbed with my second prize in the ‘vase of garden flowers’ class as mine were blatantly better than the rest (for ‘better’ read:  bigger, more of them and took up the most space on the table) and it was clearly an inside job for the winner (but I’m not bitter). Our eggs didn’t even get off the starting block. I’ll be having words with the hens before next year. A full programme of identical egg laying practice will be instated six months out. You mark my words.

Turns out bigger isn't always better...

On to the children’s section and we fared far better than I expected. I think we were lucky in that the judge clearly went for the entries that had actually (apparently) been created by a child under 5 rather than some of the very polished entries that even I would have struggled to make given two clear weeks of time. We took home first prize in the ‘house made from Duplo’, a triumph made all the sweeter by the fact that we only had scrappy bits of various packs that had been hand-me-downs over several years, the other entries blatantly having been built from dedicated sets.  Somewhat ironic now that one of the family has just started working for Lego and presented my daughter with a Duplo Farm set not three days later! We also managed a third for our cress caterpillar made from an egg box and Highly Commendeds for our cress grown in a pirate boat and our teddy made from playdough. Chuffed does not even cover it! My daughter, God bless her, even seemed to share in my giddy triumph commenting gratifyingly within ear shot of the other show-goers that “I made that! Look Daddy I did it!” Ha, take that other cheating parents…

Our prize haul - I don't think we disgraced ourselves...

So all that translated into the princely sum of £9.00 of prize money. OK so I can’t quite yet retire on my winnings but it more than covered the bottle of Prosecco that was consumed later that evening. Plus a few rides on a lovely donkey called Jenny sparking what I fear may be a costly  lifelong equine love affair. What I was not perhaps aware of beforehand was the less tangible cost of entering a show. On paper it’s 15p a class, a pittance I hear you scoff. But the actual cost goes a lot, lot further. For starters our veg patch, once burgeoning with ripening veg and pristine plants, now resembles a desolate wasteland as I, at 5.30am on the morning of the show, armed with secateurs and garden fork, turned the whole place over in pursuit of six identical pea pods and three perfect potatoes. “Just one more plant, just one more plant” I muttered to myself like a woman possessed as I went hammer and tongs at each bed, leaving a trail of destruction in my wake.  The rhubarb bed now lies in tatters and the once beautifully symmetrical lines of onions are now a ragged mess as most have been wrenched from the earth before being cast aside like a Tesco’s EU regulation reject for not being quite the right shape or size. That’s before you take into account the irreversible damage inflicted to the inside of the car (worth a fair few grand) as I transported vases of flowers between by knees and pots of cress-filled compost on my knees across a bumpy show field. Oh but it was worth it, boy was it worth it, just to see my name on those cards as I entered the marquee. Every last cent. I’m already plotting and planning my strategy for next year’s competition…

Post-show apocalyptic scenes of desolation on the veg plot

Thursday, 6 August 2015

It's showtime! (Part one)

Part One – The Build Up

August. In rural Wales that can only mean one thing. Showtime. And I’m not talking about dancing girls or West End musicals here. This is pure, steely competition, the once a year opportunity to settle personal vendettas over the size of one’s bull or the length of one’s runner beans (I’m sure Freud would have had a field day – pardon the pun – had he undertaken a field study – again, sorry – in a Welsh village during the summer). To the outsider, the village show is the quintessential image of quaint rural life, a community happily gathered together for the day to celebrate the fruits of communal labours. On the inside, however, the reality is oh so different. This is neighbour pitted against neighbour in a no-holes-barred fight for the glory.

The village show - highlight of the rural calendar

Now, I grew up with this. The annual cycle of preparation, expectation and then euphoria or bitter disappointment depending on whether my miniature garden on a plate or animal made out of vegetables had caught the eye of the judge. The jittery nerves on the morning of the show as you very carefully lay out your exhibit on the trestle table in the marquee, surreptitiously eyeing up the competition and thinking, ‘yeah, mine shits all over that one, for sure’, followed by the seemingly interminable wait as the great white flaps are bound shut for the judging to take place. Three hours later the tent is stormed by expectant exhibitors, outwardly jovial and enjoying the day, but inwardly laser-focused on checking whether the all-important red, blue or yellow card is next to their jar of chutney or pom pom dahlia.

20 years later, I find myself back in the same position. Poring over the show catalogue to see what I and the kids can enter, that same sense of excitement fluttering down there in the pit of my belly. Maybe, just maybe, this could be our year…. To be honest it has pretty much taken over my life this past week or so. Hence this two parter blog post: I wanted to capture the before and after of the day to give you the full insight into this rural phenomenon.

And so this week we have embarked upon ‘Operation Showtime’, days and nights dedicated to the preparation for the Big Day. Jesus, what has happened to me?! Clearly six months out of the City saddle has left all sorts of pent up competitive energy with no outlet whatsoever. I’ve turned into that pushy parent from hell, laying out a timetabled programme of activities to work on each of the four exhibits in the under 5s section. Every available window sill and the entire airing cupboard is filled with 'amusing' containers of various shapes and sizes in a desperate bid to grow cress seeds which will be at their absolute zenith on show day. My daughter is two. She really could not give a toss whether her teddy bear made from playdough is better than the next kids, or whether her painting of herself actually represents anything vaguely humanoid. Oh but I do. I really do. I can’t sleep at night for wondering whether she will win a prize. I think all those childhood years of tent-based disappointment are now coming home to roost. See what I mean about settling old scores?!

That’s before we even get started on the vegetable and produce classes. After years of watching my parents bemoaning the fact that their broad beans are “piss poor this year” to then go on and win 1st after 1st prize, finally I have my own vegetable garden within morning driving distance of the showground so that I might, for the first time, legitimately enter my very own, lovingly produced vegetables.  Don’t underestimate the significance of this milestone. This week, any pretence at self-sufficiency has completely gone out of the window. “Sorry eggs are off, yep all week – I need four exactly the same size and colour”. “Don’t you dare go near those broad beans! Don’t touch the peas! I said, DON’T TOUCH!!!” Oh yes. Sod the fresh, organic meals - this week it is Birds Eye all the way as we put a complete lock down on eating or using anything that may be in the running for The Show.

Legume lockdown
So as the grass is being cut, the hedges trimmed and the marquees erected, I’ll end for now on this ‘will they, won’t they?’ cliff-hanger. Nothing like leaving yourself open to ritual humiliation and disappointment through the very public platform of social media! See you on the other side…