Friday, 14 August 2009

No business like show business

Locals among you will know it was one of the highlights of our year in the Somerfords last Saturday, and I'm sorry I haven't got round to reporting back before now, but I've been – well, rather busy, one way and another.

It had been raining just about continuously for the three weeks before, and Emma, the Horse & Pony Secretary's, phone was hot from people ringing in from Hampshire, Herefordshire and Hertfordshire to find out whether it was still going to be on.

"Of course it'll still be on," she told them all blithely. "Well, you know that field..." It's true, there's something a bit magic about the Show Field. It can be bucketing down with rain for weeks, but somehow the water just drains away.

"It's always nice for the Show," said Debbie in the shop (mind you, I thought to myself, it wasn't last year...)

Anyway, it turned out that neither Emma's nor Debbie's unbridled optimism was misplaced, for Saturday morning dawned clear and bright and, apart from a bit of a puddle near the gate where the horseboxes had been coming and going since the crack of dawn, all was dry and the going, as racing people say, could not have been better.

Entries for the Industrial and Horticultural sections started arriving long before eight, and there was hot competition, particularly in the Men Only Sponge Cake class – I don't think I've ever seen such a large collection of Victoria Sandwiches in one place – big ones, small ones, supremely airy ones, ones with generously jammy fillings – and I'm beginning to wonder whether there aren't rather a lot of men about with perhaps a bit too much time on their hands. Either that, or a few with a very strong will to win...

John was looking confident as he arrived with his giant marrows, which had just been modest courgettes before he went away on holiday – it's amazing what three weeks of rain can do – clouds and silver linings and all that.

Onions were arranged, beans were assembled, jams, pickles, flower arrangements and pasta pictures were all brought along to impress the judges....

The little funfair was set up and before long sausages were sizzling and pink clouds of candy floss was being whirled round sticks sending sticky, sweet, savoury smells mingling with a top note of diesel as the dodgems were cranked up.

The door of the Horticultural tent was zipped firmly shut and everything went very quiet while the judges perused, deliberated, measured and compared – for what seemed like hours. And then, and then... Finally, the door was unzipped again and the crowds surged in to find out who had won the perpetual cup (Ross, as it turned out, and well-deserved, too), whose jams had passed muster and of course who had managed to produce the biggest marrow...

(sorry, Adam).

So much jam and so little time...

...and some very confused alpacas.

And, of course, I can't not mention the dog show (in which, yet again, there was a terrible travesty of justice in the Dog With the Waggiest Tail class, but I'll try my best to rise above it...) Best In Show was a very smart Grand Vendeen Griffon all the way from Oxford, and there was a well-deserved third in Most Appealing Eyes (well, if I'd have had two, it would obviously been a first...)

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Feeling smug as a slug in a spud

It’s almost been like Spring Watch at our place this week, although admittedly it’s the wrong time of year and we haven’t got Bill Oddie in a hide down the bottom of the garden. Alex’s friend has got a hedgehog in his garden, and she’s just produced a couple of tiny, prickly babies. As far as we can see, there’s at least two, although we don’t want to get too close.

And as I walked over to Little Somerford to pick up my car from Richard on Friday, I noticed a pair of velvety ears poking up through a sea of barley in one of the fields by the railway line. A young faun, which could only have been a couple of meters away, suddenly noticed he was not alone and turned tail, bouncing gracefully away towards cover. The dog, at silly mid-off, gave chase, but he wasn’t nearly quick or tall enough – his wildly flailing ears bounced ridiculously through the long grass before he reluctantly gave up the ghost.

Later that day, Alex found what looked like a very fat tube-web spider under the sofa. We spooned it up into his magnifying bug viewer where it obligingly laid an enormous egg, which it wrapped up into a parcel. I’m not sure how the baby spiders are supposed to get out when they do eventually emerge – it says in our spider book that spiderweb is stronger than steel rope, once it’s had a chance to harden. Still, I suppose it must know what it’s doing. We’ll keep you posted.

Down on the allotments this evening, several dusky black swifts were skimming the veg patches while I dug up the last of my early potatoes. Swifts are only here for a few short months and apparently never land on the earth – if they did, they wouldn’t be able to take off again, they even sleep on the wing. I’ve been growing veg for a little while now, but I still never cease to find it amazing how just four little seed potatoes tucked away in a corner of Adam and Cheryl’s allotment can somehow manage to produce all this. I really didn’t do an awful lot – just popped down whenever I remembered and raked up the soil a couple of times.

I pedalled back home, feeling slightly smug and wobbling slightly under the weight of all my spuds, where I rustled up a courgette quiche (thanks Cheryl for the courgettes and Suzy for the eggs). I popped some of my freshly dug potatoes on to boil with a couple of sprigs of mint, marvelling at how clever I’d been to rustle up such a quick, delicious meal with just about everything sourced from less than a mile away (ok, the flour and the butter did come from Somerfield). This, surely, was what the good life was all about. It was only towards the end of supper when the rude awakening came. I’ll give you a clue – what’s the one thing that’s possibly worse than finding a slug in your dinner? That’s right: finding half a slug.

I take a little comfort from Dr Mark Porter’s comments on Case Notes earlier this week to the effect that stomach acid is actually stronger than car-battery acid, and therefore better at dissolving things. However, I’ve suddenly gone right off home-grown veg.