Wednesday, 23 September 2009

County Show

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?


Shaista said...

I've never been to a County show in Cambridge - perhaps they don't have any. But I do love your selection here - did they know/mind you were taking photos of them? The tattoos were amazing - maybe he's a plumber by day, rock star by night? Loved the llama and sleepy piglets.. did you go en famille?

Beth said...

People – with their quirks, hobbies, diverse looks and interests – are fascinating. It takes an occasion such as this one – or just a ride on the subway – to remind us just how much so. You captured it all with your camera and your discerning eye!
We have a tendency to hang out with like – it’s good to get out of that rut once in awhile – often opens up possibilities in one’s own life...

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

I also love to watch people and wonder where they live and what they do for a living. Over the Labor Day week-end, my husband, daughter and myself always go to the Apple Festival in Hendersonville, NC. I met two lovley ladies this past time who are thinking of moving to the Ustate of SC and they shared some nice stories with me about their lives.
I think it's neat--everybody has a story to share if we only take the time to listen.
Tracy :)

The Bug said...

My husband & I went to the annual "Wool-Gathering" near where we live in Ohio. It was mostly for folks who wanted to buy wool, yarn & all the accessories for fiber arts. But they did have some sheep, alpacas, llamas & angora bunnies. It was a lot of fun to be briefly immersed in this passion...

Reya Mellicker said...

So much going on there! I would want to sack out in order to process all the sensory influx!

What an excellent country fair. As for the tattooed guy, if he put a shirt on, you'd only see a tiny portion of his body ink, so he could do all sorts of jobs, I would guess.

Love the word "plump." Thank you for using it.

And thanks for this tour of a lovely event! How cool.

CashmereLibrarian said...

This post speaks to me so much! At home, we do seem to hang out "like with like," but when I travel I'm much more apt to go out of my way to talk to all sorts of people. Maybe because when one is close to home it's nice to be "safer," whereas out of one's element it's easier to be more open?

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh I loved this. What a perfect day out. And I just love pigs.

The concentration on the face of both man and llama was wonderful. And I adored the line, "Girls with punky pink hair and boys in corduroy stand side by side looking at chickens. I mean, that pretty much sums up life, doesn't it?!

ArtSparker said...

Wow, great you are there post. I want a ferret.

FCW said...

Takes me back to my boyhood days at the Three Counties Show (Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire). Thanks for the memories.

The Clever Pup said...

What a wonderful thing - this County Show. I remember going to an English School Fete when I was 5. Bran tubs and coconut shies, tents and tombola.

I subscribe to the English edition of Country Living and I've seen several articles on these great fairs. Pleasantly, nostalgically envious of you.

I love your illustrated man.

Anne said...

I love this post! I think I would just have the best time at a show like this one, for all the reasons you mention. I think of this type of show/fair/gathering as very English, but surely we have this sort of thing in the U.S. as well? Somewhere?

I'm always wondering what people do for a living, too. Driving along, seeing homes lit up from the inside: what do these people do? What were their days like, and what are their cares and worries?

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with an elderly woman who volunteers to get juice and cookies and such for folks who've just given blood. She brings her knitting to help pass the time, and she told us all about her knitting, her daughters who knit and spin, and so on. It was great fun talking with her.

willow said...

Oh, Bee, I loved this post. Your fair is such a diverse cross of culture and so different that what we have here in the midwest. Those pole climbers are a riot!

Anonymous said...

Disney is a great place to people watch too.

Bee said...

Shaista - Yes, we did go en famille . . . but teenage daughter hung out at the fair with her friends, husband looked at cars, and so that left my younger daughter and I together to look at the animals. As for taking pictures of people, it's tricky, isn't it? Of course all of the people doing races were being snapped by onlookers, and I did ask permission from some . . . but I just turned around and quickly photographed the tattooed man! I figured that if he was walking around without a shirt he was willing to show off.

Beth - Yes, we do have a tendency to hang with our own tribes and thus FORGET how wonderfully diverse the species is!

Tracy - The Apple Festival sounds like my cup of tea! I bet they had great food.

The Bug - The world of wool/knitting is definitely not a lost art. I'm amazed by how many people have a passion for it.

Reya - Yes, this event would not be recommended for people who can't cope with crowds and excessive sensory input!

CashmereLibrarian - Yesterday I was in London and I thought about how much easier it is there to feel part of the rich mix. You can't even avoid it; and I think that's a good thing.

Pamela - So you are a pig AND a dog person? We spent a lot of time looking at the chickens, because we want to get some new ones.

ArtSparker - the ferret race was hilarious. I'm going to send you a pic of it.

FCW - Thanks for visiting my blog. I think that, more than most things, the ingredients of an agricultural show don't change much.

The Clever Pup - I'm fascinated that you subscribe to Country Life. It is one of the ultimate "fantasy" mags for me!

Anne - When you were in Houston did you ever go to the Renaissance Fair? I always wonder what sort of "day jobs" the Renaissance folky folk have; and do they actually live in soulless subdivisions?

I have knitting on my list of "to tackle someday" hobbies.

Willow - I loved the pole climbers, too. It just amused me that the father managed to beat the son!

Anna said...

Oh Bee such a nice event, but those tatoos do scare me, lol. I hope he is not covered 100%, lol. BTW what's display your prize sheep means? Anna :)

mouse (aka kimy) said...

wonderful!! thanks for bringing us along. I love events such as this with the collision of so many different types of folks and activities.

love the selection of photos you chose to highlight the day, I'm sure it was hard to choose which to post if you are anything like me in turns of snapping.

the tattoos seem to be a hit w/ your readers.... they are fascinating subjects, this fellow given his age and some of the tats may have been in the merchant marines!

quack, quack

Sarah Laurence said...

I love that opening shot – out of another century. The best part was when you trained your lens on the watchers.

That second photo is a hoot. I wonder if they are a couple?

I like to think the tattoo man is a pirate or an author, but he’s probably a lorry driver.

The people are even more fun than the animals. What a circus. Thanks for the show!

Anne said...

Ha! Great question. I've never been to a Renaissance Fair, either in Houston or here in the Bay Area. Now I want to go simply to interview the participants about what they do and where they live outside of the Ren Fair!

Knitting is lovely and (I find) very therapeutic. I hope you get a chance to explore it. I bet you could find some amazing yarn at those county shows!

La Belette Rouge said...

The sleeping pigs made me moan with delight. What a lovely day out! Thanks for taking us with you. I can tell you for sure I have never even heard of a ferrett race. Are the ferrets happy to run? Just curious.

Lisa said...

What a treat that you shared this with us. And the writing is, as always, a delight. This just reinforces my desire to visit England.

Dick said...

Fabulous, Bee. The photos alone tell the story so evocatively. Berksshire certainly does better show than Hertfordshire and we're the bigger county!

marja-leena said...

Oh what fun! Great photos, thanks for sharing it all and making it come to life. People watching is the best!

steven said...

hello bee - i've not been to a big country show since i was fairly young. i live in a rural community now but the "shows" tend to be in the smaller surrounding communities and we get to them every couple of years. they are lovely opportunities to meet people as you did and find out that there are subcurrents of which we were previously unaware. magical subcurrents sometimes even!!! have a sweet evening. steven

Anonymous said...

Imagine how the faces of those who come to this place have changed, or at least their dress!

Vero said...

I always seem to find out about events like this after they're over. The same with craft fairs!

Well, like Shaista, I'll keep an eye out for Cambridge-area events. I love the quirkiness, the wide variety of ppl you find there, and the weird stuff you get to bring home at the end of the day (hopefully not piglets...)

Love it :)

Merisi said...

Pole climbing looks like a good overall workout! :-)

I love this kind of show,
haven't seen anything like that here.
Back in the States I know about a few fairs that were similarly entertaining.

Christina said...

aren't the people fascinating, at these shows?
great tour. xo

Polly said...

oh the pleasures of living in a country! they are trying to copy those country shows in London, but it doesn't seem to work

I know what you mean about people watching. The pole climbers look hilarious, I'd love to try that

julochka said...

i would have said it was a gorgeous set of americana, but i guess it's not...a gorgeous set of britannia perhaps? what a collection of characters. i can't believe tho' that you didn't really give us any pictures of the food. isn't that the essential part of the county fair? where are the caramel apples and cotton candy and funnel cakes (or their equivalents)? or are you saving them for something else. ;-)

all i know is that i would like to have seen the llama competition (leave the drama to your llama?) and the ferret races. in college, we had a friend with a ferret and we tried to put a tiny little eastpack backpack on him. he wasn't pleased. (the ferret, not the friend.)

Pam said...

Great pics! Thanks for sharing your Country show.I really enjoy the atmosphere of shows and the mix and mingle, particularly seeing one such as yours, on the other side of the globe.

B said...

How did I never know about this? This is te best people watching ever. I love the man with the tattoos... and the pink baby, oh, so cute!

A Cuban In London said...

The tattoed guy is a model. Of that I am completely sure.

Excellent post, fantastic images.

Greetings from London.

jane said...

that was so much fun. i´d love to go and just people-watch. thanks for that!

bonbon said...

Such a cross section of country folk.

Nimble said...

@Anne - I was going to tell you to watch out for the Highland Games in Pleasanton. But I find that it's held annually on Labor Day weekend (this year at the Alameda Co. Fairgrounds). So you have a year to wait. But my friends who go every year say that it's wonderful fun. Caber (huge heavy pole) tossing and all.

herhimnbryn said...

Oh thankyou for this Lady B. I was reminded of annual childhood visits to the Kent County Show.

CashmereLibrarian said...

I was thinking the only thing missing was Dick Van Dyke singing "the old bamboo!"

Fantastic Forrest said...

Loved this post. GREAT PICS! Thought I'd commented on it, but I must have spaced out. Remind me to tell you some time of when we got caught in the middle of an Irish horse show as we were driving from Mayo to Dublin. The whole town is basically blocked off, and we had to drive through. It was a pretty funny experience.