According to my records, it didn’t rain on July 15, St Swithin’s Day. That should have been good news because, according to legend, if it rains then, it will rain for the next 40 days. But after heavy to torrential rain on several – eight at least – of the past 26 days, not raining on St Swithin’s Day obviously doesn’t guarantee a dry spell.
The sensible thing to do, of course, is ignore sayings about St Swithin’s Day and all other such old wives’ tales, although I did see a half-hearted explanation of that particular legend by a weather expert. It was something to do with normally prevailing conditions at this time of year, wind directions, ocean heat, and various other things, but I couldn’t help thinking of a cartoon years ago where one child asked an older one why the tide went out then came back.
“Well,” said the one being asked, “it depends on a wide range of gravitational, climatological, meteorological, physical, geological and planetary action factors – but basically it comes back because it’s our turn to have it.”
Ditto this summer’s weather, I think. We might not want it, but we have it, and extremely frustrating it can be. We all know that August can be wet as well as hot, but it never fails to annoy when the wetness outdoes the heat at harvest time. Perhaps the next 26 days will show some improvement. Then again, perhaps not.
Although I’m not a fan of pedigree breeding or livestock showing, I’ve never doubted, or questioned, the amount of time and effort sellers and exhibitors put into preparing their animals. Nor do I doubt the satisfaction of winning.
But like most who go to agricultural shows I’ve always taken it for granted that supreme inter-breed champions will be from the cattle or sheep lines. There might be other sections at a show, such as goats or poultry or, at one time, pigs, but cattle and sheep are dominant.
Logically, there is no conclusive reason for that. Someone preparing a cockerel, bantam or duck for showing will put as much effort in as someone preparing a bull or ewe, allowing for the difference in size.
Yet I wish I’d heard some of the ringside comments when Robin Forrest selected a call duck – usually big and white, but there seem to be other colours – as reserve supreme inter-breed champion at the recent Border Union Show at Kelso, the championship going to a beef cow.
Well done, Mr Forrest, an astute, experienced and respected judge of livestock and a boost for that small, select group of poultry breeders who appear at Kelso.
But, as Sir Humphrey used to murmur to Jim Hacker in Yes, Prime Minister, when Jim was about to do something Sir Humphrey considered politically damaging: “That would be a very brave decision, Prime Minister.”
At which Jim, alarmed at the thought of being brave, would backpedal. Selecting a duck as inter-breed reserve was a very brave decision and I can only recall one instance of anything like it.
That was many years ago when the late Bob Adam of Newhouse, a noted Aberdeen Angus breeder, was judging at a Scottish island show and became increasingly irritated by the chaotic lack of organization and failure of stewards to get exhibitors and animals into the ring.
When the inter-breed contenders were finally assembled, he insisted that the poultry champion be brought in too and to general consternation made a cockerel supreme champion. That didn’t set a trend, but perhaps Mr Forrest’s decision will, at those summer shows still to be held.
My own show-judging experience, as might be expected, is limited, if we exclude the shapeliest ankle competition at an adventurous WI meeting, and a fair number of best drop scones, best peppermint sweets, best poems and one malting barley competition at a young farmers’ meeting where – the little rascals – it turned out all entries were from the same bag of Golden Promise.
Only two events have involved animals, both as the result of arm-twisting by “friends”, both allegedly for fun, both disasters.
The first was a children’s mounted fancy dress where I gave first prize to the show president’s grand-daughter – unwittingly and unbribed – and can still picture the frozen expressions on the faces of some of the mothers holding ponies when I announced the result in time-honoured fashion by patting the winner.
And the way they snatched the consolation lollipops from my hand.
Occasion two was a children’s pets competition. Grumpy comedian and actor WC Fields, who said “never appear with children or animals” got it right, and appearing with both together was virtually a death wish.
I put a lot of thought and effort into judging that competition, but can still hear quite clearly a disappointed parent’s voice from the crowd when I picked the winner: “He’s gien it tae the b***** hamster!”
As soon as the presentations were over I made my excuses and left. I’m sure Mr Forrest didn’t have to do the same.