Saturday, 8 September 2012

Whither the traditional country fair?

Up until a few years ago I used to attend the annual Essex Country Show, close to where I live(d), and have a great time among the steam traction engines, classic vehicles, heavy shire horses and vintage farming equipment & amusements.

This was the first year I had been able to go back again for some time and I was looking forward to more of the same.  I was slightly concerned to read the official website's positive spin on the Show's expansion in recent times as my in my experience the bigger an event becomes the less specific, the less intimate and the less enjoyable it becomes.  It turned out that I was right to be worried - I'm sorry to say the Essex Country Show has succumbed to commercialism.

Now I know farming is a business and events like these are a great boost to its economy, educating and entertaining the layman in matters agricultural and providing a fillip to local produce. I'd also be a fool not to expect heaving crowds on a hot September Saturday.  But when the very first stand you come to upon entering the grounds is the local SEAT dealership's selection of new cars, you begin to think that something is very wrong in the world of country fairs.  This is how it continued for several rows - stands selling all kinds of odds and ends, such that you could be forgiven for thinking you were at a common-or-garden boot sale.  Every other one seemed to be a purveyor of food - and not just of the specialist variety but also all the usual greasewagons you'd find at many supposedly lesser events.

The craft stalls that had once characterised the Show had been stuffed away in a side-field to make way for this brazen consumerism.  Likewise the display ring where the beautiful horses, dogs, birds-of-prey and the like put on their impressive shows was off to one side and sparsely spectated - certainly more so than I remember.  The fields where the traditional ploughing was taking place could be better seen from the main road!  The whole thing had the feeling of an event that had just got too big for itself and the "captivating atmosphere" was nowhere to be found.  Crowds (which I say again I both expect and accept) milled around moving from one food stall to another it seemed, making photography of the interesting exhibits almost impossible.  Traction engines seemed conspicuous by their absence - I saw maybe only half-a-dozen (some smaller ones trying to make their way through the throngs while pulling trailers of people or hay) which, given that they used to be one of the main attractions for me, was a great disappointment.  Likewise the vintage amusements consisted of one (admittedly charming) large merry-go-round and a suspiciously new-looking steam organ, as well as an assortment of smaller modern stalls (e.g. hoopla, shooting gallery etc.), all dwarfed by several nearby bouncy castles.  Certainly nothing like the vintage arcade machines and rides I seem to recall from previous years.

The few pictures dotted throughout this post are some of the best that I was able to take of the event and I left disappointed, my wallet £12 lighter and with a longing for the simpler, more focussed country fairs of past memories.  Judging by some of the comments I overheard I was not alone either.  I was told that there is a Spring Fair earlier in the year that is smaller and I just managed to make out from the tannoy something about a "Wartime Weekend" at the end of October (although I haven't been able to find out any more about this yet) so it may be that I'll try them in future instead.

In the meantime I will just have to continue to get my fix of traditional country fairs from other sources:

1 comment:

  1. I must admit, when I think of country fairs, the first thing I think of is agricultural shows, and of those as primarily for people involved in farming (so, animals on display, local produce for sale, and usually quite a few stalls selling outdoor clothing and farm machinery). It's a terrible shame when these events become just the same experience as everything else - when the country fair becomes as homogonised (sp?) and dull as the High Street.


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