Every September, for a hundred years now, immense crowds of people have gathered for the Newbury Show. It takes place somewhere at the crossroads of agriculture, commerce, competition and "a good day out."
It's the sort of place where you can buy your new tractor, display your prize sheep, stock up on homemade jam and pick out a new shooting jacket. If your interests don't lean toward the agricultural, you can just amble around -- like most of the folk -- and take in the sights. There is a bit of something for anyone, and a lot of food and drink for everyone.
I am always struck by the democratic qualities of "the Show." Girls with punky pink hair and boys in corduroy stand side by side looking at chickens. The old and young, rich and poor, farmers and white collar types all jostle together. I walk around constantly thinking, "Where did these people come from?" It makes me realize what well-worn grooves we must all follow, despite sharing a corner of Berkshire together.
Although people-watching isn't part of the official programme of events, it is my favorite part. This teenage mother and her pink infant have the same peachy plumpness, while this man wears his history on his skin in a very literal fashion. (If you double-click on the picture, you can read some of the details.)
What do you suppose he does for a living?
I'm also fascinated by the enormous variety of hobbies and interests on display at the Show. Don't you find people endlessly strange and wonderful? I spoke to this woman, at some length, about her passion for wool and spinning. She told me, ever so proudly, that the local chapter of spinners has 110 members. Who knew? One of her comrades is a skein-collector. She is attempting to spin the wool from every breed of sheep, no matter how rare, in the United Kingdom.
This father and son are competitive pole-climbers. (Do loggers do this for fun? I'm not sure how else you would get involved in this "sport.") The father, who is first in his age-class, bested his son in this particular race. It was impressive to watch them run, in a strangely crab-like fashion, up these towering poles.
There are races of all kinds at the County Show.
Here, the young farriers are pounding away at their anvils. Competitive horse-shoe shaping and shodding, I think.
This man was driving his llama through an obstacle course. I wonder where you train for that sort of thing?
Have you ever seen a ferret race? This man is showing off his first-prize ferret, both of them flush with recent victory. The handlers spray their ferrets with water to cool them down before they race.
I'm not sure if that step is always necessary, but it was gloriously hot on this September day. The summer weather always seems to come just when we've given up on it.
I don't know if it is the heat, or the crowds, or full tummies, or so much walking around, but there is something utterly exhausting about being at the Show all day. I wonder how many children sack out, like these piglets, on the way home?