Thursday, 12 March 2015

Showtime

While I was home in Australia, I went to a couple of shows. Not shows in theatres; agricultural shows, those wonderful events where people - mainly those from the country - gather to show off their horses, sheep, goats, cattle and any other produce they can muster. Trailing horseboxes or driving huge trucks loaded with animals and gear, they'll often come long distances, down bumpy dirt roads and along highways of varying quality. For a few days, they'll pitch their tents among a muddle of vehicles and buckets, horse rugs and saddles, settling down, completely voluntarily, for a few days of fairly major discomfort. All this to gain, if they're lucky, a long felt or satin ribbon that probably costs $20 at most to make.

But it's one of those instances in human life where the cost of the thing doesn't actually matter, and nor does the effort. For show people, to receive one of those coveted ribbons is a pleasure so pure and wonderful that it is worth more than money.

Mind you, these days a great deal of money is spent on showing - at least in the pony classes. As a result, clothing has become extremely competitive. Being merely neat and tidy is no longer enough, however peripheral your role in things. While it was always the case that in hacking and turnout classes, the most unlikely people, the kinds that never normally got out of a t-shirt and ancient jeans, were prepared to climb into jodhpurs and tweed hacking jackets and fiddle about with stocks, if necessary, now things have got to such a pass that even the people who do the leading have to look as spliffy as if they were spending a day at the races.

If my mother's to be believed, this trend is not new, (is anything?) She has often told me of her loss of innocence in the face of Mammon at Noorat show. Noorat is a small town in western Victoria and, as small children, she and her sisters and brother would take their ponies over and have an excellent time, entering everything and winning some classes, but generally just enjoying themselves and having a go.

Then one year, when she was about 8 or 9 - but she can still remember it vividly - they arrived to find that Noorat show had got serious. Dozens of flash cars with Melbourne numberplates came winding up the narrow road on the show's first morning. Each dragged a float and in each float there was at least one expensive pony, polished to a dazzling brightness, mane and tail plaited professionally. In the front seat of each car was an equally expensively prepared child, in brand new jodhpurs and Harris tweed hacking jacket and shod in the best boots money could buy. There was no more fun and there were no more ribbons for my mother and her siblings. Something had happened; the show had become grimly serious business.

It didn't put my mother off though. She still has horses. She shares them with other people, who drive them in harness. One of them did very well at Gunning. The other was very naughty at Canberra. Both of them are beautiful and, if only I was brave enough to learn the art of driving horses, when the oil runs out I'd be able to turn to them as an alternative means of transport.

While mum was talking with her mates about bits and shafts and some of the other finer points of harness driving, I took some pictures at the second show we went to, the Royal Canberra. Today, I'm including the outdoors ones. Tomorrow I want to talk about the produce pavilion, another part of shows that I especially love.



























Looking at some of the little girls in my pictures, I can't help thinking of a Betjeman poem I've always loved. If you want to read it (it is quite funny) you can find it here.



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