I’ve finally realised why I have such an odd reaction to the local agricultural show, stubbornly refusing to go in recent years. I’ve always put it down to the first year we went, when we lost Will in a sea of tails and toddlers as all children were invited into the main ring to hang out with the hounds. We stood at the side, trying to keep an eye on our children, then aged five and six, but failing. Some time later, I was nudged by the woman next to me who said: ‘Doesn’t that sound like Will?’ She was referring to the announcement being made, for the third time: ‘Would the parents of a small boy in a blue-and-white shirt make their way to Lost Property.’
We ran to the appropriate tent, expecting to find a sobbing child. Actually, he was sitting on a fridge full of ice creams being adored by the woman in charge and sipping lemonade. He practically ignored us as we laid claim to him. But it had been a heart-stopping moment and I’ve always made out the guilt is why I resist going. The rest of the family adore it and return with the same things each year: a beeswax candle they’ve rolled themselves and, in Zam’s case, invariably, an axe. They see friends, eat hotdogs, admire the sheep and come home buzzing.
This year, I decided to give it another go-possibly because we now live further away and it’s no longer convenient. It hit me as soon as we got out of the car and I looked across the field towards the horse boxes. I’m unbearably, irredeemably, appallingly jealous of the girls in jodhpurs. Glossy ponytails, glossy ponies. Aertex shirts (I may be making that up, but that’s how it looked to me). The very picture of every childhood fantasy I ever had.
My mother knew I wasn’t cut out for riding and had the good sense to send me to a riding school for two lessons. I was put on a bombproof animal, which never lifted his head from the grassy verge. I could hear the teacher’s exasperation as she urged me to just pull his head up and give him a nudge. ‘Don’t let him eat,’ she shouted. Well, honestly! I refused to go again. But I’d read all the books and longed to pack a picnic, take off on my pony and join a Christine Pullein-Thompson story. I imagined myself galloping across beaches or lying under a tree with my pony standing idly nearby. I spent two years at a weekly boarding school where every girl worth her Thelwell pencil case had a pony. I had thick glasses, neat handwriting, no pony and therefore no friends.
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Having put two and two together, I got contact lenses and invented a chestnut called Blaze (imaginative) before heading to the next school, where I was busy trying to fit in on the first night in the dormitory when two catastrophic things happened. First, everybody started laughing about people who still believed in Father Christmas and I knew, as much as I’d ever known any- thing in my life, that my expression must not betray a shred of evidence that I was one of these unfortunate idiots.
Then, my best friend from home, also in the dormitory, overheard my atrocious lies about Blaze and felt duty bound to expose me. Of course, she’d really done me a huge favour as there was no way I could keep the story going. I’d forgotten any information gleaned from the pony books and had already said Blaze was about 5ft tall. When the conversation moved on to numnahs, I was utterly lost.
At the show I admired the cows, wondered if we should have Dexters in the future, marveled at the identical colouring of an impressive Charolais bull and his owner and congratulated the friends who had won second place with their ewe. I was having a very nice time. But then I saw them, out of the corner of my eye. Eating ice cream, nowhere near a pony, but strolling around in their jodphurs and riding boots and just looking so cool. And I felt the green-eyed monster again. Immature. And not over it.
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