The fete season is nearing its close. Appleshaw, Goodworth Clatford and Abbotts Ann bring it to an end in about a month’s time. The straw hat will then hibernate, and we will live off the sundry fruit and vegetables we have acquired in the summer, along with all the cakes in the deep-freeze. In the long winter evenings, we will read the books and do the jigsaw puzzles bought from bric-a-brac stalls in North West Hampshire, assisted by the odd bottle of home made elderberry wine.
The St Mary Bourne Flower Show and Fete was the most recent fixture we attended, with an obligatory visit to the Tortoise Race. There is a superficial comparison with Ascot, in that the entrants are paraded around the ring by the stable girls before the start, enabling them (the tortoises) to be assessed by the punters. The value of this exercise is diminished by the fact that the numbers are affixed to the tortoises after the parade and after bets have been placed. Unlike Ascot, where the same horse does not run in more than one race, the entrants in each tortoise race are the same. Indeed, the same entrants are in every race every year. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
One tortoise caught my eye. While all the others displayed agitation and pre-race nerves, this one was calm, its energy conserved, waiting at the start for the others to join him. It turned out to be a dummy, made of china. I chose a number and waited for the off.
A leaf of lettuce is placed by the finishing post to incentivise the tortoises to make swift progress, and they are placed simultaneously on their feet by the start at the off. My tortoise finished second, having been modestly condemned by years. My request for a urine test on the winner was turned down by the stewards. But my tortoise had a consolation prize as it was mounted by the tortoise who came last, its energy conserved for more important activity.
Consolation was also on the way for me. Two high-pressure salesmen, one wearing bright green trousers, descended on me flourishing books of tickets for the whisky draw. The MP is always a soft target, even if the next election has been fixed for May 5th 2015. Forty £1 tickets are sold for each draw, with the winner of the lucky ticket receiving a bottle of whisky. My number came up. I am leaving the whisky at the recreation ground so I can give my tortoise a nip before he races next year.