THE GOOD LIFE ON A PLATE
As an antidote to the boxed meals on our supermarket shelves and the nagging suspicion that nobody cooks real food from scratch anymore, it is always reassuring to find so many traditional skills in evidence at the Isle of Man's Royal Agricultural Show. 2004 was no exception and in the Produce Marquee the scope and energy of Manx life was laid out on trestle tables for all to contemplate.
I always take my camera. This year the cabbages were handsome and the cucumbers sleek and buffed to a satisfying sheen. Delicately tinted duck eggs nestled in curls of wood shavings. There were jars of tiny quails' eggs and stout pickled onions and the scarlet jackets of the tomatoes hummed with ripeness and colour. Tomatoes are extroverts while runner beans are modest, so there is something rather touching I always think about the sight of six runner beans lined up for inspection.
Local honey - the palest of pale citrine and looking like trapped spring sunlight - must be the perfect partner for a slice of sturdy farmhouse bread. So too the chunky marmalade, homely but jolly under wrapping paper hats.
In the Fur and Feather tent amongst the chickens and hamsters and flop-eared rabbits, I discovered a demure guinea pig with a perfect centre parting and her long hair done up in paper curlers. This diminutive creature was my personal pick of the livestock, although it was a narrow squeak between her and a Manx Loughtan lamb by the name of Rodney.
Rodney trotted towards the car park on a leash and rode home in the front of the car, while the trophy cup his owners had won sat in state on the back seat.
This year the sun shone on Starward Farm in Sulby for the two days of the show, but it was touch and go. Heavy rain early in the week had softened the fields and farm machinery churned a trail of mud along the entrances and exits. I flung a pair of wellies in the car before I set out on Saturday, but the sun had dried the mud to a soft crust in most places.
Towards the bottom of the big field I found the usual pens of shy-faced sheep, and bored cattle, polished until they gleamed. Children on ponies cantered around the parade ring while the onlookers perched on hay bales. Last year the black-faced hill sheep were dyed a fetching shade of marigold, which made them stand out from the crowd in photographs and a snooty Suffolk ewe allowed me to stroke her nose.
A cup of tea and a bun in the refreshment tent rounded off the afternoon while eavesdropping on a good-natured argument about the finer points of judging Floral Art.
Last year I blagged my way behind the ropes to photograph a luscious series entitled Revelry and this year the floral interpretations of Shakespearean themes were so stunning I would have given them all a first prize.
If you missed out this summer, promise yourself a treat next time and find a local Agricultural Show to visit. Here on the Island, no event on the calendar illustrates the richness of life better than the Royal Manx Show and this year, without it, we wouldn't know we'd had a summer.
The Good Life On A Plate was published in Manx Life.