Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Summer Saturdays

A few weeks ago our village hosted one of those National Garden Scheme Open Days where local people - those who have a garden worth showing off - open their gardens to the public.   The rest of my family were not interested so went along with my neighbour to visit three gardens which I drive past every day, but which are hidden from the road by a high wall.  Three very different gardens, each equally impressive.   My favourite was the one with the vegetable garden and fruit bushes.   What struck me about all of the gardens was that the emphasis was not on perfection, pruning and weed free beds, but on the profusion of  plants.   That's where I go wrong I think: I spend too long trying to get my garden under control.   So my mock orange bush has hardly any flowers because it was clipped back at the wrong time, unlike the arching scented bushes covered in white flowers in the gardens I visited.  It was a lovely afternoon - the sun shone and we wandered around the gardens and had tea and cake served by the WI.

Then last weekend I visited my sister who lives in a village north of Brighton and attended their village fayre which, it seems, has been held here for the last 700 years, since it was founded in Norman times.  It began with a parade of floats on the theme of Carnival.  We watched this and then followed to the showground, where there was an arena surrounded by bales of straw for events like a tug of war, the start of a fun run and various other forms of entertainment.  There was also a traditional fun fair, a beer tent, a Pimms stall and lots of stalls selling jam or crafts.  And the WI were serving tea here too.  And coffee cake, my favourite. Must be getting old - went for the tea and cake rather than the Pimms.  I'll be joining the WI soon.

These events brought to mind a poem by Philip Larkin called 'Show Saturday.'   (There's a pattern emerging in my recent blog posts - I hadn't realised how many poems are floating around in my head.) Larkin has a reputation as a bit of a cynic, but he, like me, seems to enjoy these traditional summer events.  The show he describes is more of an agricultural show like Ballymena Show in Northern Ireland which we used to go to as children.  Daddy would show his prize bullocks and often won rosettes.  This is an extract from a longer poem.

Show Saturday
by Philip Larkin

Grey day for the Show, but cars jam the narrow lanes.
Inside, on the field, judging has started: dogs
(Set their legs back, hold out their tails) and ponies (manes
Repeatedly smoothed, to calm heads); over there, sheep
(Cheviot and Blackface); by the hedge, squealing logs
(Chain Saw Competition). Each has its own keen crowd.
In the main arena, more judges meet by a jeep:
The jumping’s on next. Announcements, splutteringly loud,

Clash with the quack of a man with pound notes round his hat
And a lit-up board. There’s more than just animals:
Bead-stalls, balloon-men, a Bank; a beer-marquee that
Half-screens a canvas Gents; a tent selling tweed,
And another, jackets. Folks sit about on bales
Like great straw dice. For each scene is linked by spaces
Not given to anything much, where kids scrap, freed,
While their owners stare different ways with incurious faces.

The long high tent of growing and making, wired-off
Wood tables past which crowds shuffle, eyeing the scrubbed
Extrusions of earth: blanch leeks like church candles, six
 pods of
Broad beans (one split open), dark shining-leafed cabbages-
Of single supreme versions, followed (on laced
Paper mats) by dairy and kitchen; four brown eggs, four  white eggs,
Four plain scones, four dropped scones, pure excellences
 that enclose
A recession of skills. And, after them, lambing-sticks, rugs,

Needlework, knitted caps, baskets, all worthy, all well done,
But less than the honeycombs.

And the ending which I love.  Larkin is good at endings.

Let it stay hidden there like strength, below
Sale-bills and swindling; something people do,
Not noticing how time’s rolling smithy-smoke
Shadows much greater gestures; something they share
That breaks ancestrally each year into
Regenerate union. Let it always be there.

Maybe not a summer show, this one.


  1. Tea and cake served by the WI - I'm sure it was delicious! They really know how to do cake. Have you ever been to the Castlewellan show (held in July)? The next one is coming up very soon.

  2. Not been to that one - just Balmoral and Ballymena. I always want to go to the Old Lammas Fair in Ballycastle - the name attracts me if nothing else.

  3. Join the WI as soon as you can! I love it.