It’s Showtime!

From Italy, back to the green of England. It’s been amazing how a couple of weeks of normal temperature and a bit of rain make everything completely green again. 

Last week it was the Melplash Show – which is really, to say, the Bridport show, for those of you who might have mistakenly driven up to the tiny village of Melplash, on the road to Beaminster. Charlie worked furiously to get all his entries together. I arrived on the train from London as he was just getting back home the night before the show.  The following day he had to be there at 7 in the morning, for stewarding duties…. I took the dogs for a walk and spent the morning at home catching up after a week away in Italy.

I arrived in time for the Grand Parade. Always so wonderful to see the fantastic farmers of Dorset and the surrounding counties, working so hard to look after their incredible herds and flocks. 

The face of happiness:

Shire horses leaving the arena:

Prize giving:

Then we went to look around.  The honey tent is always amazing:

(Those are beeswax cakes, in case you were wondering)

In horticultural produce, there was an inspection of the cups….

We nipped in to Homecraft briefly, where the cups were being awarded – I adored this poodle.

For some the excitement was too much….

In other areas, very careful study was underway….

Back in Horticulture.

That’s Charlie’s prize winning heaviest Marrow….

This, meanwhile, is Ashley Ball’s six foot long courgette….

Which did indeed win unusual vegetable, and quite rightly.

Here’s Charlie with the marrow.
Ashley’s award winning mixed stand: Prize giving!  Smiles all round.

The Melplash is amazing, and for those who haven’t read them, do have a look at my blogs from this year and the previous, which go into a bit more detail.  But now, the following day, for something completely different.  The Great Dorset Steam Fair – the 50th anniversary.

Our friend Ruth Guilding, who all readers will know for her incredible blog (and eponymous instagram) The Bible of British Taste had texted us saying “I want to go and see the gypsies… are you game?”.  Yes we were.  Ruth came to stay for the night, and we had a happy evening at the Parsonage toasting Charlie’s successes and putting the world, generally, to rights.

We thought we were being clever to get up early the following morning. We were not early enough.  We got stuck in an enormous queue of cars around the Blandford bypass, where we waited, I suppose, inching forward, for an hour and a half.

As soon as we arrived we realised it was worth the wait.  Before we had even entered the fair, A Steam ploughing match was in progress.


You quite quickly realise that the steam world is well fortified by tea.

Inside, there are literally thousands and thousands of engines and machines, of all shapes and sizes. There are a lot of men in overalls, and a lot of large cans of Brasso.

I wish you could here the incredible tunes of the famous Gavioli Steam Organ. 

I think it was still early – that explains the empty seats.  As well as the Victorian to 1930s rides, there are brilliant modern fairground attractions too. A friend told me of the experience of driving past the steam fair at night, with all these machines lit up like Las Vegas. I’d like to see that.  I liked the fact that Simon Cowell is in the horror bus.

Hit the hammer, boys:

Wood cutting machinery area:

Straw baling area:

Tea in Mugs is a good name for a cafe, especially these days:

Horse ploughing competition:

Details everywhere;

Shepherds hut area.  All original, all amazing. 

The true Dorset face of the hurdle man.

The tractor area:

The random steam engine area:

The junk area. Total heaven.

Madonna or Gorilla anyone?

We found Charlie a McCormick Tractor….

A dancing James Brown?

Unicorn rides?

And then the main arena.

The site of hundreds and hundreds of steam engines charging around at high speed was tremendous. 

Refilling the boilers:

Incredible. A deeply refreshing lack of health and safety in evidence too; yet everyone managed to stay alert and out of the way…

The air was thick with steam and smoke and the pungent smell of burning coke; the smell of the industrial revolution. This was the first time in my life I’d really experienced this. You suddenly imagined what the air around the great 19th century railway stations, or in the potteries of Stoke, must have smelled like. I’ve read about it, of course, but never quite thought about it in this way.

The commentary was sublime, as was the commentary caravan.  

Talking of caravans, there is another whole spectacle, and that’s the vast caravan parks of steam enthusiasts surrounding the fair itself.  I’d never seen anything quite like that either.  Immense, and wonderful.  

Eventually, we tore ourselves away.  If you have never been, make a pilgrimage. it is insane, so fun, so beautiful.  And, lots of gypsies, should you fancy them too.

Back home, Charlie’s garden is at pre-autumnal peak.

The following day, we met up with our friends Gracie & Adrian, who have featured in these pages so many times as the brilliant publishers of Little Toller Books, and custodians of the equally brilliant charity, Common Ground.  They had our mutual friend, the artist Ed Kluz, staying. Watch this space for an interesting Ed/Little Toller/Dorset project next year…. but in the meantime, here’s the best show of all.  We went to the pub in Cattistock on an incredibly wet and windy day, to discover the village veg show in the skittles alley at the back of the Fox and Hounds. Superb. 

E. Cox had basically grown all the prize vegetables: 

For various reasons I didn’t actually make it to Dorset this weekend, but it was the Dorset County Show.  Charlie did brilliantly!  The giant marrow struck again, of course, and firsts in floral art and dahlias.  Amazing!

Cream wedding anniversary cake anyone?

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