Wednesday, 29 July 2009
Friday, 24 July 2009
Tuesday, 21 July 2009
Back at the Lambeth Country Show, the competitive baking, the Mr Whippee vans, the alpacas, the sheep-shearing, the dubious crafts, the bowel-bothering, bass-heavy sound systems, the medieval jousting and the sheepdogs chasing herds of ducks up and down a miniature slide are all just so many support acts before the two main attractions:
Malheureusement, it was not a good weekend for owls. Humans cannot perform thrilling aerial acrobatics when it's gusty, and nor can owls. In addition, they have a peculiarly sensitive artistic temperament, particularly when it comes to the big occasion. "Look at Tiger," said the owl wrangler, in a strong West Country accent, of one of his starlets. "He's a bag of nerves. He's never flown in the big arena before."
If you ask me, Tiger had had enough of his human sidekick giving out cheap, crowd-pleasing chat like this: "Right, kids. Who likes to go to McDonald’s? Who likes burgers? Chicken McNuggets? Yes? Well, owls would like to go to McDonald’s if it was RAW.’
Here is Tiger, his face bleak with contempt.
Meanwhile, in a tent on the other side of the park, red-hot vegetable modelling action. You might expect that the recent demise of Michael Jackson had inspired many artistic endeavours. You would not be wrong.
Yet neither will you be surprised to learn that the judges were not to be swayed by the gimmick of topicality. Here is the more classically inspired victor:
But wait. What is her hair made of? IT IS MADE OF WOOL. Instant disqualification, surely, and a failure of imagination on the part of the artist for not turning to some moulding asparagus, for example, to give similar colour and texture.
Here is second place. Excellent use of engraved watermelon to provide a tortoiseshell effect:
And here is third, apparently a tribute to Wilf Lunn, at least in terms of facial hair. I could not say if Wilf smokes a pipe.
But let us not forget the children, as they are our future. Teach them to make vegetable animals well, and let them lead the way. Also be there to mop their tears when one of their creations literally falls off its perch [below, extreme right].
I would also like to highlight the show's competitive floristry wars, with one category of exhibits themed around a West End musical.
Here is 'Cats'. You can see that the artist has used a china cat to suggest the musical Cats, and also a card that says Cats on it.
And here is 'Wicked'. Thrillingly, at the edge of the frame, you can catch a glimpse of one of the tent's security personnel, tensed like a jungle cat, ready to pounce at the first sign of a riot. The crowds at the Flower Show can be large and unruly, particularly in front of the vegetable modelling entries, where there's more push and shove than the opening of Primark Marble Arch. You may think that the cord around the security agent's neck is attached to her glasses. It is actually holding a lightweight Taser.
Finally, if you are moved to enter a category at next year's show, might I suggest marrow growing? Look at the sole entrants, and the over-ambitious table space that has been allotted to their no-show rivals.
They look as glum as the last two marrows to be picked for marrow football.
Sunday, 19 July 2009
I fought the Lambeth Horticultural Society, and the Lambeth Horticultural Society won, but I came second
Well, this weekend [steely, ominous voice] it was time.
The battlefield was the Domestic Classes of the 2009 Lambeth Country Show Flower Show (too many shows, but I cannot explain it any other way) - in particular, the baking categories. I did not, as I had proposed, learn skills from the world’s best baking ninjas. I did not travel to Vienna and Kyoto. Instead, I searched deep, deep within myself – past the literature of the American renaissance, past my A-level French vocabulary and past all the lyrics to Duran Duran's Rio album – and drew on all I had learnt at the formica worktop of Mrs Jones. I also trusted in an email I received from a lovely lady called Valerie, a benign member of Lambeth Horticultural Society, who answered my plea about how to enter and also wished me good luck.
The sun rose over Brockwell Park on Saturday morning, and I made my way to the Flower Show tent with my freshly baked weapons. I walked up to the reception desk, told them my name and in return I was given this:
Oh yes, readers, I am kind of a big deal. These change hands for hundreds of pounds in certain tea shops and garden centres with wheelchair access.
The atmosphere in the tent was – heh – intense. People were nervously primping bonsai trees and smoothing out crocheted blankets. An elderly man was wiping stray smears of homemade jam from around the rim of a jar with the concentration and precision of a watchmaker.
I started to lay out my entries on their special, pink paper plates. Then a lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would like to use some of her clingfilm. I felt a warm glow spread through me, from my sweating feet to the tips of my shaking fingers. It was a glow of camaraderie, but also of smugness because I may be a rookie, but I had remembered to bring my own clingfilm. So I said no thank you, and told her she was very kind. And to make conversation, and try to prolong the moment of respectful bonhomie at the competition coalface, I said, ‘Oof! It’s really hot in here, isn’t it!’
'Oh,' she said ominously, striking a deadly blow at my ingenous enthusiasm, ‘this isn’t hot. This is nothing compared to some shows.’ She also told me that she had won the handicrafts cup a few years before. That put me in my place.
Once I had set out my plates, and spent several minutes moving them a few centimetres one way, then several centimetres back again, I wandered around the tent (which was still closed to non-exhibiting civilians) looking at all the other displays, without the crush of the general public. It was a special time and I thought this is what it would be like if you were allowed into The Louvre or The Metropolitan Museum Of Art in New York at dawn, just the greatest treasures of the world, and you. And about two dozen really competitive pensioners.
But then, a man shouted, ‘Stop exhibiting!’ and it was exactly like Masterchef, and all the arranging and fussing was over, and we had to leave the tent so that judging could begin.
A couple of hours later, I had been joined at the Lambeth Country Show by Miss W and Marbury, and with them by my side I returned to the tent to Face Destiny.
Firstly, the marmalade cake was not placed. I was not surprised, given the rogue batch of marmalade. Thanks, Forest Hill branch of a popular supermarket chain, for RUINING MY LIFE.
But then there was this:
So, to the runner-up, the spoils. And here they are:
Three pounds. Three whole pounds. Two second-place prizes of one pound fifty. It’s unfortunate that I then spent eleven pounds on my way home in Herne Hill’s excellent branch of Oxfam, but I don't need to tell you that here, money is unimportant. Like all the great contests – Mastermind, Fifteen To One – prize money is irrelevent. It is about prestige. It is about respect. It is about glory. And now, I am only hungry for more.
Next time on Why Miss Jones: more from the Lambeth Country Show, in particular, vegetable sculpture and owl-stretching time.