This was the second time my granddaughter and I had spent a day at the New Forest Show. We’re both a year older than last time, and she has become much more sophisticated and perceptive than she was then, though still young enough to look at things from her own angle sharing unexpected and unique perspectives on things I had often never noticed or thought about.
Essentially, the whole thing is several large grass arenas in the middle of the rough park around a large country house (now a hotel) surrounded by a temporary town of marquees and stalls which house almost anything that could possibly be of interest to someone who lives in the Forest, or who likes to visit it. Around everything, several very large fields are filled with lines of parked cars, reached by woodland tracks through farm gates on the edge of the main road. Thousands of people are there.
We had an extraordinarily expensive snack in the flower tent, enjoying astonishing displays of exotic plants and the fierce, but silent and unassuming competition to be recognised as “gold” or merely “silver gilt”.
The competition theme is everywhere. We inspected the families of cattle (Bull, Heifer and calf) while they were being shampooed and combed ready for their moment in the show ring. There were posters detailing their pedigrees back several generations. In the sheep tent, small girls, immaculate in white coats and and every bit as well turned out as their animals, led only slightly reluctant charges to walk proudly round a ring, while an elderly expert cogitated at length before giving rosettes to the best. We watched showjumping, and pony-club team races and a parade of magnificent Shire Horses and their vehicles. We even watched strong men saw or chop their way through massive tree-trunks, or shoe a horse, or shoot clay pigeons against the clock. Where there was prize money, it was a tiny fraction of the costs involved in preparing for the competition, but pride and acclamation seemed to be more important.
The biggest hit of the day was the play bus: soft play, complete with slide and trampoline, in a double decker bus, that will (for a fee) come to your birthday party. A couple of pounds bought half an hour of excitement and energy for her and a sit down for me. She was also fascinated that the Shire Horses had ribbons in their manes and wanted to know exactly how this was done and how co-operative the horses were.
We enjoyed looking at things we were never going to buy. There was a hot tub built into an old VW beetle and lots of boats and recreational vehicles, all available for instant purchase as were fields full of pickup trucks alongside huge and complicated farm machinery, which included, astonishingly, a bright pink tractor: showing you that this model had an extremely wide range of options. It was a work of modern art: unexpected, heavy with symbolism and meaning and evoking a reaction far beyond the creators’ expectations.
It all felt a long way from our every day experience of Forest Life but somehow it did express the richness, variety and even a little of the challenge of living in this special place, though we both agreed that we’d never seen a pink tractor out in the Forest, and probably never would.