I loved agricultural shows as a child. The two that I remember going to almost religiously were the South of England Show in West Sussex and the New Forest Show in Hampshire. Not that I visited both shows by pedalling my Chopper frantically between the two locations… it’s just that I had family in both parts of the world and that’s simply what we did every year – it was part of our family calendar.
Free stuff for kids
Why did I love them? Mainly because of all the free stuff.
As soon as we got through the gates it was all about who could get the most free carrier bags, magazines, brochures, keyrings, beer mats, helium-filled balloons, paper baseball caps that opened upwards in a spiral like a perfectly peeled orange… the list went on and on. We’d arrive home weighed down with booty that would gradually and mysteriously disappear over the next few days as our parents gently disposed of the never-to-be-looked-at-or-used-again pile of loot, piece by piece.
There were other magical moments besides the gathering of transitory possessions – like the time I met Red Rum and stroked his nose. And the time I came second in a fancy dress competition dressed like a wizard – pipped at the post by my brother, wrapped in linoleum, masquerading as a dalek.
Now that I’m a little more grown up, I eschew the free baggage for the sights, sounds and smells of overworked steam-driven farm machinery, the magnificent heavy horse parade, the delights of the food hall and the warm blanket that is the Ringwood Brewery beer tent. There are still memorable moments – like last year’s brush with the Queen and Prince Philip – it turns out there are plenty of Royalists like me still around.
Not just agricultural businesses…
Seeing the New Forest Show through more mature eyes, I now wonder if it’s more a trade show than an agricultural show, as I spiral inwards around the showground, passing endless tented solicitors, hot tub vendors, antiques, car showrooms, watersports event managers, toy shops and estate agents. But then I watch my own kids darting from stand to stand, gathering free stuff from whomever they can; and I remember that it was ever thus.
What all the different varieties of stallholder actually demonstrate is that land occupied by the New Forest National Park isn’t just agricultural and rural in nature; it sustains every type of business there is – and the New Forest Show is a great way to bring them all together. The show as a whole is representative of the changing nature of the economy – a miniaturised New Forest, if you will, that lasts for a few (hopefully warm) summer days. And most visitors at the show want to be there – so are more receptive potential customers, especially if they’re given free stuff…
So when the advertising uses the cliché that there’s “something for everyone”, it really is telling the truth. For High Street businesses there’s a great opportunity to get in front of the general public in different (and pleasant) surroundings. For animal lovers and competitors there are the arenas featuring every event imaginable. For livestock farmers, the prize heifers finally have their day. The steam enthusiasts have their corner, the blacksmiths and steeplejacks have theirs. The fairground on the edge of the showground is only a bribe away, keeping the kids happy – and the Members’ Enclosure offers an oasis of calm to those dressed for the occasion.
So no matter how jaded my logic attempts to make me about the whole jamboree, I still can’t remember a show I didn’t enjoy. Last week’s included.