Saturday, June 27, 2009

E09: Royal Highlands Show

At way-too-bloody-early o'clock I was ripped from the bed by the sound of snare drums banging just outside the window. A parade was passing by, which I watched groggy eyed and in a shirt that was – misbuttoned at best. Across from me, other weary one time sleepers, roused far too early for a Saturday morning stared down at the street with disdain. Now, I am not the type of person who hates fun; I am just the type of person who enjoys a parade, regardless of how early it is, how the crashing became ingrained in my dreams, and how I smashed the glow in the dark clock one time too many foolishly believing that that would bring an end to the roadwork-esqe racket.

The was not some grade parade, worthy of my attention, and potentially foul mood. By the time I grabbed my camera, it was too late. The parade had moved on. Look, I'm just going to break it down right now. If you can see both ends of the parade, if you can see the first man leading the way, and the final bringing up the rear, then you are not in a parade. You are merely part of an anarchistic cacophony group who hates the working class, refusing the let them sleep past nine o'clock on a weekend morning. I don't care that you have some sign, or a banner that you carry with you. I don't care that you are presenting some message that is lost on the public, and honestly – couldn't those police officers be better used somewhere else in the city? Fifty seven people a parade does not make. Just an irritant, an annoyance – not unlike my blue quick dry shirt that remains wet even after a full night hanging on the rack.

The damage was done. I was awake. Spread some cream cheese on pieces of toast, shower, and be done with it. The great world outside was calling to me, and with only a slight amount of rain I had no excuse to avoid the overcast gloom outside. Not today. Not on Royal Highland Show weekend.

Fast forward one hour, taking the 35 bus from the bottom of the Royal Mile all the way back out towards the airport. Fast forward past three people climbing and falling down the stairs to the buses second floor, jarred as the driver suddenly accelerated and braked for no reason I could determine, other than the simple joy of watching them fall on the closed circuit screen. Fast forward past the three New Zealand girls talking of foolishness, such as the ungrateful child who has entered her examining room because he had a hurt knee, yet could tell her no more than his knee hurt (what this child was supposed to say to sate her anger is beyond me.) Fast forward to the fair gates.

For the low price of twenty two pounds (free for everyone under the age of sixteen) you could enter the fairs grounds. Now, as I paid, I expected a program that would tell me what events were going on, and perhaps even a map of the three hundred acre lot. Oh how foolish of me. Did I forget that I was in the United Kingdom? A place where nothing is free, and everything costs? Clearly I had. Just as the basic programs to London theatrical performances could be purchased separately, so too could the program and map of the fair grounds. A steal at only three pound fifty. I assured myself that I could get by just fine without it, thank you very much.

My initial walkings took me past a horseshoeing competition where iron workers hand to bang out and fit shoes, then attach them all under a twenty minute time limit. From there I stumbled into the arts and crafts building where an inconceivable number of canes – both wood and horn – were crafted. As well, a hideous amount of crocheted owls flocked together in the far corner. What ungodly power would have forced such a sight, I'm not sure – still, there they were made all the more terrifying by their silence.

I was starting to think of all the ways I could have spent that twenty two pounds aside from the fair entry fee. Thirty four liters of cider quickly came to mind. It's not that I'm a lush, but I do often find myself measuring purchases by pints, and other such international standards. Some people weight the purchases against how many flights, cds, or even kayaks they could purchase. Me, I use drinks.

This feeling of booth doom and gloom would quickly ascend like the protagonist of Sega's Altered Beast the moment I entered the Food and Drink building. What was I expecting? Something like the food building at the C.N.E. where the real pity was that you could only ever choose but one meal to eat from the many tempting offerings. What I was no expecting was this, coupled by the free sample mentality that accompanies Toronto's One of a Kind Show.

Every aisle forced more culinary delights upon me. All number of curries, meats, cheeses, and jams were shoved into my perpetually outstretched hands. I had curry mayonnaise, and ice cream, and sodas made from blackcurrant, others from dandelions, honey whiskey, and toffee vodka offered free of charge. Going in I was upset I'd be limited to only one tasty treat, yet by the end of my browsing I found I could barely eat another thing.

Just outside the food building lay another trap to burst my already near-capacity belly. Just outside was a building designed to look like a supermarket, but this was no ordinary supermarket. This was a magical supermarket along the lines of that which you would find on late 80s early 90s game show Supermarket Sweep. For in this store, everything on the shelves also appeared on platters before them begging to be tasted. Now I'm sure that there was supposed to be some semblance of control here, or an assumption that people would take a litter here, and a little there, but as there was no regulation, I felt free to grab anything that caught my fancy.

Root beer licorice, and others of the red rope variety were packed away with glasses of orange juice, slices of processed meats, hunks of cheese, and many other treats. When I finally left, pockets full of mini candy bars, I knew that no other food could be consumed here this day. The haggis and the black (read: blood) pudding, would have to wait.

Let not your judgment of this fair be skewed into thinking it's all home crafts, and free food. The Royal Highland Show offered many more attractions, as anything dubbed royal should. I saw falconry demonstrations where large birds of prey would swoop in trying to catch the lure being expertly swung out of their reach, and horses pulling logs as they still do to this day in some of the forests and bogs in the less urban parts of the country. I saw sheep, and cows, and highland steers (that look a terrifyingly large amount like me, to the point where a passer by, without malice, commented on family resemblance.) There was also show jumping of the highest caliber.

I understand jumping to a point. Guy rides around, tries to beat a time, jumps over some rails. Well, actually the horse does most of the work. And I understand that London feels this is a sport worthy of Olympic level classification, while baseball does not. Sure, whatever, I understand. Apparently I do not understand as much as the other hundreds that filled the stands.

Let me tell you, they were watching with baited breath as the equestrians spirited around the course. And when the last to run the length in near record time made his final leap, just lightly knocking the rail loose – well the whole crowd burst out in a most terrified gasp. You would think that this sport meant something over here. Well, I'm sure it does, and it is quite interesting to watch – but really, when they prance around at the end, is that really needed? It's the equivalent of a football player's touchdown dance. And there's a reason those were banned. Don't worry though, the horse had such a lead by that point he won anyway. And there was much rejoicing.

Girls tried to run on water, locked in bubbles, more often falling on their bubble protected face than not, dogs chased sheep, BMXers biked without a front wheel, and people climbed tree trunks for fame and glory while others used them to chainsaw brilliant sculptures. Yes this truly was an exciting day at the fair, one not to be missed.

And on top of it all, there was an international visitors lounge which offered free tea, juice, cookies, internet access, a view of cow judging competitions, and most importantly – the high held three pound fifty program and map – all for free to those who had come from miles away. Were I a local and discovery I might be upset, but more than likely I'd simply throw up a fake accent, sign a fake name, and enjoy the benefits for myself: Sean Richtoff was here.

Really the only thing I thought as I faded in and out of sleep on the long bus ride home: shouldn't there have been bagpipers there?


  1. The horse/rider partnership in jumping is not one where the "horse does all the work." Like most sports it looks easier than it is.

  2. oh i'm sure it is. like with most sports unless you really understand it, it's hard to fully appreciate.


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