“The gutters leaked like secrets and the rain rained rain like rain …”
Nothing shall deter the British at play. As the turnstiles clicked, coins clinked and notes unfurled, the sun shone brightly on the East of England. “My Lords, Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the East of England Showground.” And welcome they were; some in finery, some less so; but most, conspicuously unprepared.
Resplendent in moleskin, doeskin, suits and bowlers, the gentleman officials and their lady wives revelled in the glory of the English County Show. Those of lesser extraction enjoyed equal pleasures; but in denim and cotton. A fine time was had (or being had) by all.
The vast expanse of the showground, great swathes of greenery traversed by tarmac and clinker, hosted all manner of exhibits from the grandiose marquee full of exotic orchids, the vaulted hall with its gourmet delights from around the globe, the traction engines merrily belching plumes of steam and churning over with silky precision. A multitude of aisles bordered with smaller, but equally vibrant exhibits and vendors tempting the public with their wares. All manner of clothing (but with a predominance of green tweed, waxed cotton and the strangely fashionable brown leather replacement for Wellington boots), garden furniture fit for Oberon and Titania, motor vehicles with all wheels driven and, of course, the ranges of products to brighten, enhance and delight the home and its surrounds from Anglian Home Improvements.
Strawberries, cream and champagne were consumed and dribbled down floral frocks, regimental ties and waistcoats. Ice-cream and tomato ketchup similarly found its errant way onto t-shirts. A joyous time was had by all but under skies that loomed from the south and took on the appearance of a less than esteemed prize-fighter’s bruises. Some were unconcerned; very few noticed.
In a multitude of rings and pens, animals of all descriptions were paraded and exhibited by proud breeders’ assistants in white coats and were duly awarded multi-coloured, floral rosettes to the delight of the hatted owners and the total disinterest of creatures concerned. Tannoys announced the next class of judging and brought order to the proceedings. “Will all entrants for the Older Rams class please assemble at gate G?” Sir Douglas, champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, lowered his head and proceeded gleefully and rhinoceros-like in the general direction of gate G only to be restrained at the wrist by Lady Dorothy in timely manner. Her ladyship, her own champagne in hand, went on to enter the most inappropriate headwear competition (she wore the straw hat with the fruit that she had bought for the Coronation and had hardly ever worn) and was slightly peeved to come 27th. This was much to the amusement of Sir Douglas who triumphed in the most over-sized galoshes event – which surprised him somewhat as he wasn’t wearing any. A fine time was had.
Bruised skies darkened to rumbling coal-pit expanses as the perceptive few headed to the cover of the grand ring to watch the scurry racing in relative comfort. The grooms and officials stood defiantly in the obligatory ankle-length brown waxed-cotton and bowler as the teams of horses, clearly troubled by the impending weather conditions, pulled their scurries around the tortuous course, egged on by their enthusiastic drivers. It cannot be said that it was without warning that the heavens opened and the raging storms commenced. Inadequately attired waiters rushed to retrieve patio umbrellas that lifted, hovered and looked as if they may clear as many fences as the horses. “Geoffrey has been eliminated for going through gate three twice” announced the gentleman commentator. It wasn’t made clear whether Geoffrey was the horse or the scurry driver. Bowler hats bowled like tumbleweed and marquees lifted and wailed like banshees. Rain-sodden groups of the unperceptive gaggled into the grandstand and bore a marked resemblance to the flocks of geese in pen D.
It was a glorious scene to be repeated throughout the day. This is the English County Show and the British at play are made of firm stuff. Sir Douglas and Lady Dorothy sat smugly in the warm, dry shelter of the grandstand, watched events unfold, and partook of yet more champagne and strawberries. The gentleman commentator recommenced “Here come our brave, next competitors – a beautiful team of horses driven by Lady Lucinda. You have seventy-four seconds to beat, Lucinda and I have to say that, in this weather, it’s a very big ask.” Sir Douglas deliberately misheard and murmured “I have to say that it’s very big in any weather!” He was instantly admonished by a slap on the wrist by Lady Dorothy, but equally rewarded by a wicked giggle and an offer of more champagne. He was not one to decline – even a tempest cannot dampen the spirit of the English County Show.