One of my most favourite things since coming to live in Dorset is the Dorset County Show. We have been every year of the four that we have lived here – the first two just as spectators and the most recent two as spectators and competitors. I get stupidly excited as soon as the tents start going up on the showground on the outskirts of Dorchester, a canvas metropolis rising from the fields. The early bird ticket office appears on the high street and there is a definite feel of the circus coming to town.
To give you the back story, the Dorset County Show began in August 1840 when a group of local farmers formed the Dorchester Agricultural Society and staged the 1st Annual Exhibition. 175 years later and the show still largely run by farming families and still a key date in the Dorset and South West Calendar. It is a huge event with livestock classes, horse and pony shows, elegant carriages and bonkers scurry racing. There are dogs galore, birds and ferrets, oodles of shopping opportunities and mouth-watering food stalls at every turn.
The show is a two day event and it is hard work to fit it all in a one day visit. I generally drive the teen and the tween to distraction, marching them round on a schedule fretting that I will miss the Dog and Duck Man/Hounds Demo/Pig Judging/Grand Parade.
Of all the tents (and there are many) to look at my top favourite is Homecraft and this is where we have made our entries for the past two years. There are a myriad of classes you can enter and competition is stiff, especially in the jam and marmalade classes – we’re talking hardcore WI preserves here, no room for lightweights.
Last year was our first year of entering. I chose the picnic hamper and lemon drizzle cake classes and had a happy time channelling my inner Kirstie Allsopp as I worked on my entries. The morning of the show dawned and we were up and out at 7am to drop the entries at the tent before the show opened. It is a brilliant feeling driving onto the showground at this time. The autumn mist hangs low around the fields and all around you the show is waking up – exhibitors are munching bacon sarnies, cows are being hosed down, ponies hooves are being polished. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation as the minutes tick down to the gates opening. We parked up at the tent and, full of first time enthusiasm, carried our entries inside. The atmosphere was quiet and tense. It suddenly dawned on me that this was not like ‘show and tell’ or the cake stall at the school fête. This was serious! All around me people were placing, tweaking, polishing and appraising their creations whilst casting furtive glances to the other competitors and their entries.
I placed my picnic basket in its allotted space and began arranging my foodie mis-en-scène as best I could. I tried to engage my neighbour in jolly banter about her entry – this was a school girl error – a chummy exchange of picnic preparation angst was not going to happen, she slammed her wicker lid firmly shut as I tried to peer in.
Entries set, we returned home to have breakfast and get ready for our big day out. By now what has started out as a simple bit of fun ‘Yey! Let’s enter some stuff to the county show! Such fun!’ had become a nail biting, nerve racking, full on worry. I had gone in like a lamb to the slaughter, no idea that the volume and quality of entries would be so high. I had gone in not really thinking about the competition element but now I wanted to win something!
Happily, with a bit of luck and a following wind, I did win something. First prize for my picnic hamper – hurrah for me and two fingers to the lady who was so secretive about her entry at the start of the day. (I know, it is not attractive to gloat, but sometimes needs must).
So now we had the taste for competing we resolved to build on our success in the 2015 show. This year we chose different categories – rainbow cake and marmalade for me, Victoria sponge for the tween and a scarecrow as a family effort with the teen leading the way. The scarecrow was the most fun – we laughed ourselves stupid trying to stuff tights with newspaper and feed them into old jeans from the charity shop. The theme for the scarecrow category was ‘Thomas Hardye’ but rather than go trad with our costume we styled our chap as a member of the film crew from the most recent adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd.
It was a gamble but it paid off and we came away with second prize. The tween triumphed with a second prize for her victoria sponge but my cake and marmalade remained lurking in the depths of the un-placed; definite room for improvement there I think.
We enjoyed a great day; marvelled at enormous bulls, cheered on spaniels and labradors as they raced in and out of the lake, ate hog roast and fudge and indulged in some fantasy chicken purchasing -I like the ones wearing big feathery trousers, the girls prefer the fat and fluffy ones.
We returned to the homecraft tent as the sun was sinking and the crowds were drifting home. We folded and squeezed our make-do man into the boot of the car and retrieved the tweens winning sponge. Stopping only at the bin of shame to dispose of my un-placed rainbow cake we headed home already discussing, in true reality TV style, how we could ‘up our game’ and really ‘nail it’ with our entries for the Dorset County Show 2016. Watch this space.