Friday, September 11, 2009

Big Boy's hot date

He was big, he was red and he was hot-looking. He was a cayenne chilli, and he was one of your humble (and hopefully horticultural) columnist’s best hopes at the Weston Village Flower Show last Saturday.
He had been tenderly nurtured from seed, coaxed through spring frosts and summer rains, protected from greenfly and sheltered from slugs and snails. He had been fed, watered, coaxed and cosseted from tender bud through burgeoning fruitlet to green, swelling pod to his final, fiery, glowing glory.
His name was Big Boy. And boy, was he big. At least for a cayenne. But then, he had a big job to do if he and his two slightly smaller companions were to win against all those other capsicums.
The show, which can trace its history back to 1892, goes from strength to strength, this year attracting around 500 entries from 100 or so people.
The title “flower show” doesn’t really do it justice, because not only are specimen flowers on show but also fruit, vegetables, paintings, photographs, floral arrangements, handicrafts, home-made wines, cakes, scones, pies and marmalades. There’s even a class for Humorous Vegetable.
The procedure for entering the show is nerve-wracking but scrupulously fair. Entries close on the Wednesday, when you have to make your initial decision about how much of your produce, cookery or craftwork is going to be ready to face the public on the Saturday. Mind you, with each entry costing the princely sum of 20p, if you misjudge the ripeness of your fruit or veg you’re hardly going to be out of pocket.
Bright and early on the Saturday morning you spring from your bed, gather your entries and trundle down to the All Saints Centre. It’s a bit of a scrum because every gardener, cook and craftsperson in Weston has got there before you and is busy setting up their display.
It’s a great chance to compare your offerings with those of your friendly rivals, and to indulge in a bit of pre-judging banter. And it’s now that doubts start to form in your mind. Is Big Boy really that big, especially compared with three chunky sweet peppers and some sturdy-looking jalapeƱos? Never mind, you think: size isn’t everything.
At 10.30 the doors close and the village enters a sort of vegetable purdah. While the judges go about their work you wait for the grand opening, courtesy of Weston farmer and poet John Osborne MBE.
The band plays, the raffle raffles, the tombola spins, and you walk the displays, putting off for as long as possible the moment when you find out if Big Boy has made the grade.
All life is here, with the exception of Dixon Junior, whose teenage cool disqualifies him from attending for more than a token ten minutes.
As you wander, you realise that it’s not you but your spouse who was first in line when they were handing out the green fingers.
Mrs D, in her second year of competition, comes away with a tidy haul of prizes including the official titles of Carrot Queen, Onion Lady and Chutney Mistress of Weston.
Eventually you get to Big Boy. There he sits, forlorn on his paper plate, without even a Highly Commended to his name. You console yourself (and him) with the thought that taking part counts more than winning. There’s always next year, and meanwhile Big Boy has a hot date. With a chicken Madras.

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