Agricultural shows are a highlight of the British summer, combining farming heritage with the village fete to bring an eccentric joyfulness
Several years ago I was asked to judge the homemade wines at a local agricultural show. I have written to tight deadlines at World Cups and delivered a speech in the Long Room at Lord’s; neither filled me with quite the same feelings of pressure and anxiety. I knew how seriously such competitions are taken, the strength of feelings they evoke. I had nightmares of being strangled with a siphoning tube. Fortunately my co-judge was more experienced and sanguine. She also held the old-fashioned opinion that swirling the wines around your mouth before spitting them in a bucket was uncouth, and so following her lead I drank a small glass of each. There were more than 20 entries, and after half an hour my fears had dematerialised into a fuzzy summer glow.
That was before the pandemic. These days anyone taking a similar approach to judging homemade wines would probably end up being hospitalised, thanks to the sheer range and number of entries. During lockdown people all over the country filled their days rediscovering old crafts, baking, brewing and winemaking among them. Entries for the industrial tent (originally for displaying the work of rural craftspeople, but showing everything from baking to children’s art, knitting, jam and photography) at agricultural shows have soared.