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Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Royal Agricultural Show hasn't changed a lot in the past thirty years, but I have. As a child being taken by my mother to the show there was a palpable excitement attached to the trip and its predictable denouement: clutching the show bags we boys staggered out the gate into the waiting car, and were driven home exhausted.

Today I am also tired after spending seven hours at the show but there is not the sense of fulfillment I once enjoyed. I bought no show bags. I took two rides and was not sad to exit the gates. My greatest satisfaction was possibly gauging correctly when me and my friend were done with the experience and steering us toward the waiting train.

In addition to my sangfroid when faced with merciless prices and annoying touts, I felt the most enjoyment when visiting the produce hall and the arts displays next door. The civic pride of the one and the amateurism of the other struck a chord within me and I admired the splashy displays of fruits and vegetables, and the delicately adorned white cakes. I stood and looked at the photographs, and admired the paintings and the dolls. I was impressed at the sheer persistence of rural women and men making useful and attractive things in the shadow of drought and economic hardship.

Although these arenas are but a hop, skip and jump away from the funfair of the rides enclosures, they are a world away in terms of the amount of human capital invested. For six coupons you can spend three or four minutes behind the wheel of a dodgem car. But it takes weeks to apply a filligree of white sugar to the top of a wedding cake. Six coupons is six dollars. Six weeks is a significant chunk out of a person's life.

The show seemed smaller, too, despite its relocation to a larger venue. Olympic Park is a good venue with broad and symetrically laid-out avenues and plenty of public toilets. The shrinking sensation is no doubt a product of my broader sense of place. Once I lived within a narrow compass. Now I navigate around the city of four millions without a qualm.

One thing that hasn't changed, then, is the show's rural focus. There are certainly brazen touts in the countryside, and we've got into the habit of praising their endurance, calling them 'iconic', and indulging them with smiles. And while they are certainly shameless in charging 13 dollars for a simple doner kebab and a Sprite, we forgive them their sins.

In any case I was given an entry pass to use, so the overall damage was slightly more than my tobacco allowance for five days or so. But I doubt that I'll go back any time soon. Today was not a point of reentry for me into the world of shameless touts but, rather, an opportunity to introduce a person who was unacquainted with their world. In this sense, I've done a good deed, and not suffered too much for it. And that can't be a bad thing.

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