No, not a filthy Soviet hat shop. As it happens, that hat can move:
I loved the joyous racket:
|This couple were so fed up at getting second prize that they were tearing up their certificate|
And imagine what it must be like to have that stuck on your head for your entire life (what are all those varieties of rubbery leather skin protuberances for anyway - are you sure about this Survival of the Fittest lark, Mr Darwin, are you really, really certain it works that way?):
I loved the ducks and the geese:
But, of course, what I loved best of all was the intensity of the participants' engagement. Sometimes I wonder if a passionate interest in something isn't the secret to happiness. In the conversations I overheard -
"It's a great type, no doubt about it, a fantastic type of hen, but completely let down by colour." "My word. I don't know what he was thinking of putting her in. Look that there should be wheaten." "Yeah, and anyway the first thing you'd do as a judge is you'd say, 'Oh, rusty wing', and she's out."
|Yes, that is a chook tucked under his arm|
"I've been dying to see the African geese."
"I was one of the pioneering breeders, but of course the judges had never seen them before - mind you, one judge, an old bloke called Stan Lawson, he put one of ours into reserve champion in 1978, but it was thin pickings for a decade or two after that." "We were the same. It was a matter of conditioning them. We've got them well conditioned now, but back then the ones who could spot them were pretty few and far between - an old Sussex man called Bill Marr did put one of ours up at Moss Vale, but that was in the seventies, and it took a long time after that for anyone to take notice." "That's just the way it was back then - no-one understood the breed the way we do."
"He looked at it five times, and I stood there thinking, 'You can't be putting that up, you shouldn't even be looking at it. I mean he's not even meant to be looking at an Orp.'" "It breaks your heart, doesn't it?"
"So he was selling these two pullets and a cockerel and he talked up the two pullets to, I don't know, the most incredible price, and so when it came to the cockerel, they were looking out for it, but it never came up and when they asked him, he looked really shifty and reckoned it was sick, but Des - you know, Des, he's from Muswellbrook - well, he reckoned that couple who'd been bidding against them chucked him twenty bucks in the carpark and he saw them driving away with it half an hour before"
- I got a glimpse of a tiny, deeply-lived world of competition and hope and rivalry, of expertise and aspiration, all centred round poultry. Passions were high, people felt involved and engaged and, through their interest in the cluckers and the quackers and the honkers, their life had gained meaning.