The Malvern Show

No matter how hard up we were, (and we always were) my Mum always managed to scrape together the money for tickets for the two of us to the Devon County Show. She would have loved to have her own smallholding. When I was about four, she returned jubilant from an evening class, declaring to Dad and I that she had won her certificate in sheep shearing. This may seem odd when taken in context - we were poor, living on benefits, on a council estate and my mum had rheumatoid arthritis at an early age, in her thirties. But somehow I think she had the faith and optimism to believe that one day, somehow, we might have a few chickens, grow veg and what-not. As is so trendy nowadays.

So from a very young age, I was taken to the livestock market at Newton Abbot, to the auc
tion ring, (and once a pig farm) - and the pair of us loved it. We used to play a 'let's pretend 'game where I was the last lamb at market and no-one wanted me, but she came along and bought me.

So the Devon County Show was our big day
out, and we went for a few years, until I was eleven and she was too ill to take me. I did go instead that year with a relative, but it wasn't the same without her. And as she died soon after, she never quite realised that rather over-hopeful dream. I haven't been to one since, although I have inherited her dream. So when Andy returned from his jolly camping in Wales, he realised I was a little burned out from long days in the studio. And he took me to the Malvern Three Counties Show.

It was Heaven. I've gone a bit feral living in the country, and even going to a small town I feel ill at ease. But here I was completely at home. The smells, the atmosphere, the noises - all combined to remind me of those heady days out with my mother, and briefly I was seven years old again. I wanted to look at everything, and over the next six hours, we
pretty much did. We saw sheep shearing -

Farriers in competition, such a primitive sight; the roaring furnaces, sweating bodies, shifting horses and always the constant 'chink-chink' of iron being hammered into shape

There were birds of prey -

Owls a-plenty -

Traction engines, vintage vans and vintage tractors -

But for me, the very best part was the livestock section. The Malvern ground is purpose built for shows, and it has a long block of halls for animals. The musty aromas of warm farm animals, straw and muck was like sniffing a long forgotten perfume, and for a while the feelings and memories were so intense I was overwhelmed. Then I got my camera out and started taking a gazillion shots of cattle, sheep, and every living creature I could get within shot of. There was one moment when I was taking a close shot of a cow's behind, and some sixth sense made me skip to one side, just as it squirted liquid manure directly at me, causing much hilarity amid the farmers and Andy.

With my new needle felting habit, the sheep had an added interest for me, and I found myself wondering if you could actually sculpt directly onto the sheep itself, (without stabbing it of course). Would it be 'Art' or Craft?

Oh, and the hens and roosters! I was in a dizzy whirl of joy. For a few brief months my mother DID have a modest flock of her own chickens, but circumstances in the form of a vindictive neighbour conspired to deprive her of this small pleasure. I loved feeding the chickens, taking warm, steaming mash up to the coop on cold nights. When Mum sadly had to give them up, it became yet another childhood vow that one day - one day - I would have chickens of my own. This is impossible just now, as we only rent. So I contented myself with taking yet more photos, grumbling with a fellow amateur photographer that the bars of the cages made for poor shots.

There were even champion eggs -

and a magnificent first prize winning goose -

Outside, there was judging going on in the show ring. Smart sheep and their equally smart shepherds -

and the biggest bull we ever did see, a Devon Red, whose chest was so deep you could hear his bellows echoing inside him like a bass drum -

...later in the champions parade, having won his section, he got a tad tetchy, and his poor herdsman was pulled about a bit. He was taken away for a bit of quiet time.

The Malvern Hills loomed quietly in the background, hugging damp rainclouds round their peaks. I ate an ostrich pasty and bought some sausages for supper. Andy's eyes began to glaze over and he was starting to look like a temperamental bull himself. But before he could start pawing the ground, we noticed the brewery drays, pulled by teams of magnificent heavy horses, and we watched these beauties, moist eyed, as they clattered and clumped with unlikely grace.

Andy fell in love with the Suffolk Punches -

And as even I reluctantly admitted that it might just be time to find the bike and head home for tea, we took a last look at the pig judging - Andy has a yen to keep pigs, so it was not difficult to persuade him to linger.

It was supposed to be a day away from work for me, but as we pootled home, my head spinning with new ideas for an ark load of felt farm animals, I realised that my visually-obsessive brain had been soaking up images like a great sponge; I had not only had fun, but was filled with fresh inspiration and impetus. The dream of a small holding didn't happen for my mother. But I am determined it will happen for us, somehow. Someday.



CMZ Art/ Rustic Goth said...

I enjoyed this piece, particularly about you and your mother, very much!

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post. If only for 'one day' we would all have the things of our childhood dreams. I am so happy that you were able to reach out and touch a few of yours at a country show. They hold a special place in my childhood too...half a world away - Jen

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Whew, what a journey, past present and future, plus lots of animal photos. The pigs are quite nice, very clean. I visited with some the other day, a group of pregnant sows napping the shade of a tree, they were not so clean, but very peaceful, just waiting for piglets.Your English chickens were good too, and the the sheep and the cows (wow, what cows) and the heavy horses and.......

Anonymous said...

I love the faith your mom had! She sounds like a terrific lady. This looks like such a nice show, how fun!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

This reader certainly did not fall asleep. Thanks so much for a viewing of what looks to have been a perfect day. The owls and the pigs are my favorites. I would think all these marvelous creatures would be serious inspiration for your work!

Frances said...

This is such a lovely tribute to your mom, to the beauty of the animals, to your creativity ... the way that your eyes see, your brain absorbs, tosses the images around and then ... magic will happen.

Best wishes. xo

tlawwife said...

Thank-you for taking us along on your day. I could smell the smells from here. It is so much like our fair but in a much grander scale. You brought me memories too.

I can't wait to see your farm animal toys.

Caroline B said...

What a fabulous day! I love these shows too, having grown up in the IOW and all things rural. Can't wait to see what all that inspiration brings out of you!

Anonymous said...

oink oink - love it

same for me and that smell of printers ink - sitting on a stack of B1 paper watching a 5 colour press roll, aged 9.

hope to see you this summer for some tea and cakes

best wishes
graham peake and family

Anonymous said...

Thanks for making me laugh and cry,
a nice break from the cleaning!

Rima Staines said...

Ah Gretel, your posts are always so beautifully engagingly written and leave me with a real sense of atmosphere :)
Some lovely animals there... I love the idea of needlefelting ON sheep! They'd look a bit like me then?!
And that's an enormous bull!
I know you'll achieve your smallholding dream one day ... you're achieving dreams left right and centre :)
Lots of love x

kate smudges said...

What a day you had - I went over to your Flickr photos and enjoyed them. Interesting how the country fairs here are similar in some ways - although here there is a preponderance of cows, pigs and horses. There are few sheep although now we get to see Llamas ...

I know that you'll make your mum's dream come true ... what beautiful memories you have of your mum.

Amongst The Oaks said...

Fallen asleep???!!!

No way, it was fascinating. I'd love to visit a show like that someday. Thank you for sharing it.
Hugs, Laura

Chris.P said...

wonderful post again Gretel. Your Blog is becoming legendary:¬)

Also in one post you have provided nearly all the reference I need for my new commission:¬)

Gretel said...

Thank you everyone - you are lovely lovely people. I did worry that I might be a bit of a bore with my farming enthusiam, not to mention the eternal pictures.

Chris, (Congrats on new job!) assuming that means your new commission needs farmy stuff, I can probably supply all the reference you need...at least as far as cow udders are concerned! :-)I took nearly 300 pics that day.

green phoenix said...

Gretel, such a lovely post.I'm sure you will have your smallholding, hopefully not too long off.
I showed my kids the picture of the bull and my little girl exclaimed 'oh my gosh, what is it?!'
Exactly, what on earth do they eat?

carolyn said...

I love county shows, country shows, game shows, etc they really are wonderful days out. Have to confess that the shopping is usually awfully good as well, did I say that? Shame on me.
Suffolk Punches are my fav heavy horse, did you know they are as endangered as the Giant Panda? I have a friend who breeds Shires but It's the Suffolk I adore they are just so, how can I put it? Rounded and they have the sweetest of natures.

Mary Beth said...

What a wonderful day! I can't wait to see the animals that come out of your magic fingers:D

auntpearl said...

Well I just had the best time reading your post. You did such a wonderful job in capturing the whole event.
Love hearing about your memories of your mother. She sounds like she was a wonderful person.

Sending you lots of hugs,

Helen/Spike and Drusilla OK Citizens said...

How sweet Andy is to know exactly what you needed! I too would have taken millions of pictures of the animals. On our trip to the UK last year, I took multitudes of pictures of the standards from Canterbury to Stratford to the Cotswolds and then London. However, by far the most pictures were of some farm animals that we stumbled upon in the Cotswolds.

OldBagNewTricks said...

Oh, PG, thanks ever so much for taking us to the fair(that's what we call it here.) I grew up raising cattle for show, so this brought my own memories, but I do appreciate anddelight in yours with your mother, dreaming of someday and pretending that you were the last lamb... What a bittersweet tale. (I'm soon to acquire chicks, but like Andy wants pigs... I suppose, pigs being hefty and uncooperative. You're own sheep. Wouldn't that be splendid. (Oh and I'm right bneside you on beimng uncomfortable when out in a crowd.
Thank you, thank you,

tlchang said...

There is not much I like better than a county fair complete with farm animals galore. (Unfortunately my family does not share my enthusiasm - especially my husband. I only got him to agree to these chickens if he didn't have to do anything with them. Ever!)

And weren't those arms on the smith amazing? I want more pictures of those! (only 4??!?)

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
This was bliss.
One day I will have a farm with animals too - chickens and pigs especially.
I'm so glad your mother bought you when you played at animal fairs.

Pina said...

Very interesting. :)

It is illegal to keep wild birds in captivity in my country and I think it is good that it is so.

Gretel said...

Hi Pina, thanks for your comment. You have misunderstood the situation with the birds; some of them are working birds, they are used for hunting and allowed to fly freely when doing so. Others are rescued birds, who for various reasons could not survive in the wild. Others are not native to Great Britain and may have been smuggled in to the country. It is against the law here and in most countries to release non-native creatures into the wild, to protect the indigenous population, and so they are kept in good conditions in sanctuaries. Many are used for breeding programmes to keep the species alive, as sadly many birds of prey are still persucted over here and their numbers are low. They are not just kept for pleasure, which as you say, would not be kind.

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

As you often do, Gretel, you have captured my heart with your personal insights and I once again feel a kinship with what you've written. I, like your mother, have dreamed of shearing sheep of my own someday and love that she actually got her certificate despite the lofty dream. Your country county show makes me want to go visit our local county fair that is going on right now. I, like you, just want to stand in the animal pavilions and drink it in!

By the way, there's a little something over at the Rosehaven Cottage blog for you.

Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

Anonymous said...

We are a piggy-loving family here; hubby used to work with pigs and would dearly love a styful in the back garden. He knows so much about them, their moods and tickly spots....sadly I don't think the neighbours would agree, which is strange as we live in a village of ex-farm labourers cottages, and every cottage had a sty in the back garden. Now they're all knocked down to make room for the conservatory or converted to a shed.
Thank you Gretel, for that lovely farmy blog! :-)

Cotswoldgent said...

I didn't realise that you captured a shot of me sheep shearing! Went to school at Malvern so I know the area well. Wonderful piccies as usual.

Dana and Daisy said...

Look at all the lovely jams and jellies! I have never seen a cow such as the black and white variety above. And seeing this bull makes me think he's got to be a sight to behold up close. Thank you for sharing al these photos. --Dana

Weeping Sore said...

I spent quite a while reading your post, and enjoying a virtual trip to the show. Isn't it amazing how our mothers influence us long after they're gone? I like your characterization that you've "gone feral" living in the country.
I recently went to the San Diego County Fair which has a few token animals but these days is mostly cheap carnival rides, lousy bands and crowded tents filled with cheap kitchen utensils and crap. Thanks for a lovely post and pictures of a REAL fair.

Anonymous said...

Sheep shearing at an evening class??! And I thought I'd seen just about every kind of course possible in our adult education booklet!
What an hilarious idea having elaborate attachments made of felt on a sheep...antlers? fancy hats? another head at the other end to confuse? What about a whole creature riding on it's back?
I do hope that one day you fulfill your dream of having a smallholding. These sorts of days out are food for the soul aren't they?x

hen said...


I was absolutely gutted I missed the show, so a bigthanks for putting it on your blog, it's fab!


p.s. Thank you for making me your site of the week, it means a lot on a blog like yours!! *shuffles away all rosy cheeked*

Leanne said...

I came across you via hen;s blog and just had to say that the bird of prey pics are wonderful! thank you!

Leanne x

Merisi said...

Dear Gretel,
I am wide awake, I loved your tales from the country show. :-)
Imagining that what I grew up with, in the country, with cows and pigs and a flock of hens, which seemed so natural if not taken for granted, was only a dream for your mother, makes me wish we'd know her, and be able to try to help her make that dream come true. What cruel neighbour! I hope she never ever tasted a really good egg again, after reporting on your mother.
I am so glad your outing went so well and brought you a wealth of new ideas. One really needs a break every now and then, the time taken off work comes back manifold, doesn't it?
Hugs from V.,

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a fantastic day out - I'm off to see if there's something similar in Dorset.

Debbie Miller of Onion Patch said...

Such a heartfelt post. Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful story and photos.

Anonymous said...

What a perfect day away. The red bull is awesome, the sheep beautiful, the pigs delightful and the honey to die for! I've so missed visiting your extraordinary and magical blog.

Deborah Lambson said...

What a great post...makes me think of my Dad. He owned a set of Clydesdales that loved him back just as much as he loved them. They would nip at each other to vie for his attention :)
..that has got to be the largest bull I've ever seen!

Unknown said...

What amazing pictures!! Those cows are just ENORMOUS!!! I nominated you for a little bloggie award - I hope you don't mind x