It’s years since I went to a proper country show. Probably about fifteen or twenty years, actually, to the point where my memories are hazy at best.
The other day, though, was Egton Show, one of the biggest in the area, and it was brilliant.
It would be disingenuous of me to try and pass myself off as an animal lover. Also, as a fellow who has never worked in the farming industry, I find it reasonably difficult to get very excited about vast marquees full of prize-winning chickens and rabbits, or pens of rare breed sheep, but each to their own. However there were still more than enough diversions to keep me entertained, including my top three:
1. Gigantic, beautiful shire horses and Cleveland bays, padding round their show enclosure. I think it’s just the size and power of creatures like that which is so impressive. The Clevelands were a little smaller, but the heavier horses towered over the big-framed men who held them, most of whom barely reached their shoulders.
2. There are tractors and then there are tractors, and there was a long row of trade stands exhibiting, well, tractors. Faced with an array of glorious, shiny machines that would have Peter Fogg drooling down the front of his cream knitwear, normally taciturn grown men found themselves overcome with the breathless curiosity of excited little boys. I’m not sure whether the vehicles or the punters were a more enjoyable spectacle.
3. Sheepdog trials. Of course I’ve flicked past One Man and his Dog on the telly from time to time, but sheepdog trials are genuinely (bafflingly) riveting. It’s sort of like a sailing race, with the field as the sea and the sheep as little woolly yachts all with drunkards at the helm. The farmer is like a Yorkshire version of Jupiter, brandishing a crook instead of a thunderbolt and trying to control the speed and direction of the wind (as represented by a prowling border collie) with commands and whistles. One rangy old farmer with a young and inexperienced dog was having a tricky run, and at the point of getting them into the pen, the final sheep wriggled round him and skittered off across the grass. He turned to her and growled in his rounded moorland vowels ‘Oh you bitch!’