Tuesday 13 October 2009

Changing times in Alwinton and Brussels

Alwinton Show is over, and the evening of the year has begun. So I always reckoned, as I marked the second Saturday in October in my diary, though it has been some time since I made the short journey to the show ground.

Until last weekend, that is, when I had a new wife and son to introduce to one of the undoubted highlights of the Northumberland countryman’s year. But whatever happened to all those smart old men I used to see, impeccably turned out in tweed jackets or suits, with matching caps?

Sadly I think we know the answer to that.

Turning back to the first show catalogue I can find, from 1991, and comparing it with Saturday’s, there has been a noticeable slump in entries across nearly all the agricultural, horticultural and domestic classes – though more people than ever are having a go at producing loaves of bread, cheese scones and jars of chutney, so perhaps all is not lost.

Elsewhere, do we no longer have the skills, time or inclination for this sort of thing, or are the incentives simply inadequate? Although prize money has doubled in the last 18 years it is still only £4 for first place in most classes, which is perhaps not enough to set the pulse racing.

Still, we enjoyed what we saw and can only applaud the innovative thinking behind the new (to me) category of “Baking Gone Wrong”, providing a welcome fall-back position with its encouraging note “Entries taken on day”.

One thing that has not changed is the appealing directness of my fellow Northumbrians, perfectly illustrated by the Show secretary commiserating with me in the queue for the chip van because my Border terrier was too fat to be worth entering for the dog show. This came as news to both me and the dog.

Then there was the steady stream of people who approached me to admire my son, snoozing peacefully in his sling on my chest, then addressed me sympathetically as “Granddad”. I felt compelled to put them right, but it clearly did no good. I could tell by the shaking of their heads that they now had marked me down as pathetically confused as well as terminally decrepit.

I was a bit saddened by the decline in sartorial standards in the Cumberland & Westmorland wrestling ring, where I waited in vain to see someone turned out in the traditional white combinations and coloured trunks. Was I just too impatient, or has this get-up finally gone the way of admirals’ tricorn hats and the Speaker’s wig?

That is the problem with traditions. You take them for granted, comfortably assuming that they are continuing just as they always did, then find that some bright spark has done away with them in the name of “modernisation”.

We will be seeing an awful lot of that on a much broader canvas once the European Union secures its new Lisbon Treaty, through its usual unattractive mixture of lies and intimidation, and the small elite who alone can be trusted to make decisions get on with their mission of abolishing what is left of our national independence.

Yes, the quality of British politicians of all parties is such that we might well feel inclined to allow someone – anyone – else to do their job, but I will still miss my once in five years opportunity to have an indirect say in sacking the man in charge.

This is very much the evening of the United Kingdom and the political and legal systems we have known all our lives. Eurosceptics pin their final hopes on the Czech President, as the Czechs in 1938 placed their hope in us. The precedent is hardly encouraging. Still, perhaps the red glow from the bonfire of our ancient liberties will at least give us an autumn sunset to remember.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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