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.
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…